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Title: Noah Webster
       American Men of Letters

Author: Horace E. Scudder

Editor: Charles Dudley Warner

Release Date: February 9, 2010 [EBook #31238]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8


Produced by Charlene Taylor, Louise Pattison and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at (This
file was produced from images generously made available
by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)

  American Men of Letters.



  [Illustration: N. Webster]

  American Men of Letters.





  The Riverside Press, Cambridge.

  Copyright, 1881,

  _All rights reserved._

  _The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A._
  Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Company.


       *       *       *       *       *

                     CHAPTER I.
  EARLY LIFE                                           1

                     CHAPTER II.
  THE GRAMMATICAL INSTITUTE                           33

                     CHAPTER III.
  AUTHOR AND PUBLISHER                                52

                     CHAPTER IV.
  POLITICAL WRITINGS                                 111

                     CHAPTER V.
  EXCURSIONS                                         150

                     CHAPTER VI.
  PREPARATIONS FOR THE DICTIONARY                    182

                     CHAPTER VII.

                     CHAPTER VIII.
  CONCLUSION                                         277

       *       *       *       *       *

Acknowledgment is due to Mr. Gordon L. Ford, of Brooklyn, N. Y., for the
valuable assistance which he has rendered by permitting the author to
make use of his admirable collection of printed and manuscript material
relating to Noah Webster.


       *       *       *       *       *



The village of West Hartford lies about three miles from the centre of
Hartford and is mainly grouped about two cross-roads, one leading from
the city west to Farmington, the other, the village street, following
the line of the Connecticut River and rambling from Bloomfield, the next
village north, to Newington and New Britain on the south. The changes in
the place for the last hundred and fifty years have not been great; the
Farmington road, to be sure, as it leaves Hartford, keeps a city
character and shows trim villas at intervals nearly all the way to the
village, but the village has not moved to meet the city, and its houses
and one or two churches and post-office have admitted new-comers so
slowly that the general air of the place can scarcely be different from
what it was in 1758, when Noah Webster was born there, October 16. The
house in which he was born is still standing, about a mile from the
corners, on the road leading south; it is upon a broad table-land, and
the wide fields which lie below it, stretching away to Talcott Mountain,
where the western view ends, are the fields which Webster's father

The ancestral stock was substantial. Noah Webster remembered the funeral
of his grandfather Daniel, and Daniel was five years old when his
grandfather died, who was one of the first settlers in Hartford and
Governor of Connecticut. The family had lived thus in this district for
five generations, as farmers, long lived and good citizens. The place
where Webster was born was sold by his father in 1790 to the family
whose representatives now live there; it covered eighty acres then, but
has been broken in upon from time to time. The senior Webster sold it
because he was poor. He lived his life of ninety-one years in a
Connecticut village, leaving it only when he led a company for one
campaign in the Revolutionary War. His square, upright tombstone stands
in the village graveyard, and commemorates the stocky virtues of
integrity and piety. He was Deacon Webster and Squire Webster, and
reached thus the highest offices in state and church which a little New
England village could offer.

Upon the senior Webster's stone is the name of his wife Mercy, who is
comprehensively disposed of as "his consort, equally respected for her
piety and virtues." She was a descendant of William Bradford, the
Plymouth governor, and thus the two lives which met in Noah Webster were
Pilgrim and Puritan, without, it appears, any quartering from other
sources. All the Websters were a sturdy race. Noah Webster, senior, died
in his ninety-second year; Noah the son in his eighty-fifth; his two
brothers lived for eighty years or more, and his two sisters for
seventy. Out of the scanty memoranda of the family genealogy little more
is to be gleaned, but it is enough for our purpose to know that the man,
whose fortunes we are to follow, inherited the Puritan mind and the New
England constitution.

He had, what every New England family wished to give a boy who had any
quickness of intellect, the education that was at the door. He worked on
his father's farm and went to the village school where rarely a book was
used except a spelling-book, a psalter, a Testament or a Bible. When he
was fourteen years old he had shown that he was of the college kind, and
studying for two years with Dr. Perkins, the village minister, and in
the Hopkins Grammar School at Hartford, he entered Yale College in 1774.
There were about a hundred and fifty students in New Haven at that time,
with a faculty consisting of a Professor of Divinity, who performed the
duties of President, a Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy,
and three tutors. Joel Barlow was a classmate, and so were Oliver
Wolcott, Zephaniah Smith, Ashur Miller, and others who occupied high
judicial positions afterward in the young republic. In Dr. Stiles's
Diary there is an entry June 14, 1778, Webster's senior year. "The
students disputed forensically this day a twofold question; whether the
destruction of the Alexandrian Library and the ignorance of the Middle
Ages, caused by the inundation of the Goths and Vandals, were events
unfortunate to literature. They disputed inimitably well, particularly
Barlow, Swift, and Webster."

There is something peculiarly felicitous in this grave record. It was a
rotund kind of learning which was cherished by Dr. Stiles and similar
guardians of the old traditions of scholarship, and in the absence of
much commerce with their intellectual peers beyond the limits of the
colonies, each college made believe very hard that its students were
scholars, and its scholastic life the counterpart of historic
universities. But it is easy to believe that the fate of the Alexandrian
Library and the performances of the notorious Goths and Vandals, those
favorite and dimly understood barbarians, had no such power in
determining the education of the young Yale student as had the events of
the war then going on. Webster had entered college in the fall of 1774;
in the spring of 1775, while he was still a Freshman, he had his little
initiation into Revolutionary society. General Washington was on his way
to Cambridge, to take command of the American army, and with him was
General Charles Lee. They passed through New Haven, and Webster has left
a little sketch of the scene.

"These gentlemen lodged in New Haven, at the house of the late Isaac
Beers, and in the morning they were invited to see a military company of
students of Yale College perform their manual exercises. They expressed
their surprise and gratification at the precision with which the
students performed the customary exercises then in use. This company
then escorted the generals as far as Neck Bridge, and this was the first
instance of that honor conferred on General Washington in New England.
It fell to my humble lot to lead this company with music."

The last sentence is a faint hint at an amusing and pardonable little
vanity of Webster's, who, as the reader will discover later, liked to
think that he had a hand in pretty much every important measure in the
political and literary history of the country in those early days, and
remembered that when the great Washington appeared, Webster was ready
with the prelusive fife. The three years which followed were years of
excitement and distraction. In the summer of 1777 the college life at
New Haven was broken up, and the classes were disposed in various towns,
the Junior class, in which Webster belonged, being stationed at
Glastonbury and placed under the charge of Tutor Buckminster. This was
the time when all New England, especially the southern part, was thrown
into a ferment by Burgoyne's movements, and men were hurried into the
field to meet this army coming down from the north. Webster's father was
captain in the alarm list, and Webster shouldered his musket as a
private in his father's company. The episode was probably in the summer
vacation, and put a stop to his work on the farm rather than to his
studies in college. Burgoyne's defeat released the young volunteer, but
an education which was divided between the camp and the cloister was
pretty sure to be fruitful in something beside scholastic learning. A
college, scattered as if by the enemy's bombs into country villages, was
likely to think with all the eagerness of youth upon questions of
political ethics, and of the broad grounds of human freedom. There are
two words often used in the ephemeral literature of that day,--_slave_,
_free_,--words used somewhat recklessly at times, but marking the
general current of men's thoughts.

Webster, in one of his reminiscences, recalls the wretched condition of
affairs when he was in college: "So impoverished was the country at one
time," he writes, "that the steward of the college could not supply the
necessary provisions of the table, and the students were compelled to
return to spend several months at home. At one time goods were so scarce
that the farmers cut corn-stalks and crushed them in cider-mills, and
then boiled the juice down to a syrup as a substitute for sugar." The
years which followed his graduation were, if anything, still more
discouraging. When he went home, after Commencement, his father gave him
an eight-dollar bill of the Continental currency, worth then about fifty
cents on the dollar, and left him to his own resources. His plan was to
study law, but his first business was to maintain himself, and he took
up school-teaching, spending the winter of 1778 in Glastonbury, where
he had gone with his class the year before. In the summer of 1779 he
returned to Hartford and taught there, living in the family of Mr.,
afterward Chief Justice, Oliver Ellsworth, and picking up a little law.
In the hard winter of 1780 he taught in his native village, and in the
next summer he lived with and assisted Jedediah Strong, register of
deeds in Litchfield, where he read law, and then was admitted to the bar
in Hartford.

There was, however, no business. People were too poor to go to law, and
the whole country was depressed by its condition. The struggle for
independence had not been a short, sharp one, marked by an intense flame
of enthusiasm; the end was reached less by heroic endeavor than by
heroic patience and the wisdom of a few. The depths of ignominy into
which Continental currency had sunk measured the hopelessness with which
those who lived by wits rather than by manual labor surveyed the field.
So, relinquishing the law, Webster resumed teaching, this time in
Sharon. An advertisement gives notice of what he expected to do in his

"On the first of May will be opened, at Sharon in Connecticut, a school,
in which children may be instructed, not only in the common arts of
reading, writing, and arithmetic, but in any branch of academical
literature. The little regard that is paid to the literary improvement
of females, even among people of rank and fortune, and the general
inattention to the grammatical purity and elegance of our native
language, are faults in the education of youth that more gentlemen have
taken pains to censure than correct. Any young gentlemen and ladies, who
wish to acquaint themselves with the English language, geography, vocal
music, &c., may be waited on at particular hours for that purpose. The
price of board and tuition will be from six to nine shillings lawful
money per week, according to the age and studies of the scholar; no
pains will be spared to render the school useful.     NOAH WEBSTER.

"SHARON, _April 16, 1782_.

"N. B. The subscriber has a large convenient store in Sharon fit for
storing articles of any kind, where they may be secured at a moderate

One would like to know if R---- P---- was one of the young ladies upon
whom he waited at some particular hour, for tradition tells of the young
teacher, with a commanding figure and erect carriage, very careful in
dress and precise in speech, sparing no pains not only to render the
school useful but himself agreeable to this young lady, who found,
however, a stronger attraction in a soldier lover, soldiers having then,
as later, a singular advantage in such rivalries. This precise-speaking
young school-master was ready enough for a frolic, as may be guessed
from two consecutive entries in his brief diary, a little later:--

"_Feb. 18, 1784._ At evening rode to Wethersfield [from Hartford, where
he was then living] with the ladies, who reminded us of the mile-stones
and bridges." [Does any one now need to be told why?]

"_Feb. 19_, P. M. Rode to East Windsor; had a clergyman with us, who
sang an excellent song. Mile-stones and bridges almost totally

The demure mouth with which this last sentence is spoken must have had a
curl at the corner occasionally. While living at Sharon he took the
opportunity to study French with a M. Tetard, a French Protestant
minister living in New Rochelle.

       *       *       *       *       *

From the scanty records which remain I have traced thus far Webster's
early life and education, but it is fair to find in his subsequent
career traces of the influence which New England surroundings cast about
every New England boy. The simplicity of life which characterized a
province so uniform in its character was especially evident in the
Connecticut Valley. Here, longer than in the cities and on the
sea-board, native English and Puritan stock retained the form and power
which an unbroken succession in blood and a freedom from external
pressure had made possible. The families known by Webster in his
boyhood, among whom he lived, and whose lives passed into his character,
were a part of the great migration which founded a new England between
1630 and 1640, and from a basis of English law and custom, modified by
theocratic doctrines, and partially shaped by a struggle with the
wilderness, built a state which was to be one of the great forces in
American history. The agricultural life, which was more productive in
the valley of the Connecticut than elsewhere, determined largely the
social life of the colony, made Connecticut the most serenely democratic
of the New England States, emphasized the individual worth, and allowed
free play in self-government. The church held its own for a longer
period than in Massachusetts; the inevitable surrender of the
ecclesiastical power of the Congregationalists was deferred until a much
later date; and to-day it is in Hartford that one will find most
distinctly the lines of colonial Congregationalism.

The life of the household in a Connecticut village in the middle of the
eighteenth century was very self-centred. Remote from towns,--for
Hartford was only a village then,--the demands of farming life
determined the round of days. Every one from childhood fell of necessity
into his or her place as one of the workers, out doors and in, and the
simplicity of the social organization made the farmer a mechanic as
well. There was the blacksmith's shop, where a rudely trained skill
supplied the more special needs; but the farmer himself not only used
his tools, but mended and to some extent made them; he was carpenter
also, and shoemaker, and, in general, necessity had taught his hands to
shape and his fingers to be dexterous. The boy made his own traps and
small tools and carts, and early learned that handiness and adaptability
without which he would be likely to go through life in a destitute
condition. There is to be found still, especially in the back country, a
curious survival of this old economy in the hired man, who shines in
literature in the person of Mr. Jacob Abbott's Jonas, the embodiment of
practical wisdom, learned not so much from books as from the daily
school of farm and shop life. The hired man of that time was the
occasional unattached member of society, or one who was forced out of
the family hive by the excess of hands and the deficiency of land.
Commonly the family itself supplied the necessary laborers, and these
all in their youth, no matter what intellectual promise they might give,
were, as a matter of course, parts of the regular farm company.

The jack-of-all-trades character of the farmer and the absence of a
force of artisans and special craftsmen easily compelled a state of
mutual dependence. If a house or a barn were to be built, the
neighborhood was called in at the critical moment to raise the frame;
and the farmer who asked the help made his acknowledgment not only by
serving when his neighbor needed him, but by acting as host to the
company, and making the raising a time of good cheer and hilarity.
Harvest also gave opportunity for mutual help and neighborly charity, so
that much of the social life of the day grew naturally out of the common
work and occupation of the community. In-doors it was the same, and
quilting bees and huskings and spinning bees made work and play shade
into each other. A community where every one worked and each might be
needed by his neighbor would scarcely suffer very marked distinctions of
rank; and in the lighter social life, which made no pretense of work,
the sleighing parties and athletic sports, the suppers and dances which
followed the bees, an equality of condition was assumed, very favorable
to self-respect and independence of judgment. It is to be noticed that
the substitution of alphabetical order in college classes for a rank
based upon social distinction occurred earlier at Yale than at Harvard,
and it is not unlikely that the more democratic life of Connecticut had
something to do with it.

Distinctions, however, there were, but they were laid chiefly in reasons
which all were willing to accept. The magistrate and the clergyman,
though familiar associates of the plainer people, were conceded a
deference which superior education, and not superior birth, compelled,
and without question the road to eminence was held to lie through
education. No one dreamed of securing the special honor of the community
except by this means, and in every family a boy who showed intellectual
promise was encouraged to hope for a college education. His college
education was in most cases expected to result in an entrance to the
clerical profession, but the law had by this time begun to have a more
distinct claim upon attention, and the medical profession had always
demanded those who could show a positive predilection for it.[1] The
doctor, however, did not learn his science under any organized
educational system, but by personal association and study with an older
practitioner, a system which naturally lessened the likelihood of
persons drifting into the profession upon slight grounds of preference.
The self-contained life of the community, indeed, made people somewhat
indifferent to a highly educated medical profession, and increased also
the confidence with which any one might assume to observe and discuss
facts connected with the art and science of healing. In every household
there was traditional learning which served for ordinary purposes, and
the housewife knew and used herbs with something of the practical wisdom
which she applied to her cooking. In every community there was likely to
be one woman or more to whom the rest turned in emergencies, and a rude
practice was kept up which cannot be called quackery, for it was
entirely unpretentious. Something also was due to the knowledge derived
from the Indians, whose closeness to nature was supposed to give them
excellent opportunities for wresting secrets from simples. This respect
for the Indian school survives still, and affords a support to the queer
practitioners who call themselves Indian Doctors. It was never strange,
therefore, when a man who had received a liberal education turned his
attention to questions which nowadays a layman would scarcely venture to
discuss. He was not regarded as an amateur, but as occupying himself
with a legitimate part of his business.

Even more surely was the educated man a lawyer. There was always a good
deal of litigation going on in Connecticut, but the legal profession
scarcely existed as a distinct body until Webster himself came upon the
stage. Plaintiff and defendant addressed the court if they desired, and
in the loose practice of the day there were no intricate and technical
processes which debarred any intelligent man from taking part in a
cause. Substantial justice was done, and every citizen took part in
legal affairs with confidence that he only needed perseverance and a
fair cause to achieve success. Above all, the constant and familiar
participation in public concerns was a school for the citizen, in which
he learned thoroughly the art of legislation, and acquired a readiness
in government which stood him in good stead when the scope of
governmental power was enlarged. The New England town was always the
centre of political life, and each member of the town learned early his
inalienable right to a participation in all the benefits which the
community could confer. In town-meeting he learned to vote and to be
voted for; a gradation of offices from fence-viewer or hog-reeve to
selectman gave training in administration to all who had any capacity
for organization or leadership; the discussion of town affairs sharpened
the wits, and, better still, educated the towns-man in a distinct
recognition of his political relations; he learned to think politically,
and as the Revolution drew near, the petty interests of the local
community widened into larger questions of state when the towns
themselves found that they were parts of a larger body corporate. Then
the principle of representation was constantly delocalizing the town,
and bringing into the arena subjects which reminded men of their
relationship to the state and the crown. Men who had grown up under the
discussion of questions which involved great historic processes were not
likely, when the occasion came, to hold back from writing or speaking on
great national themes, merely because they were not publicists by

The military system, which formed so important a part of the New
Englander's education, added to the picturesqueness of his life and to
the notion of solidarity. The experience with Indian and Frenchman, as
has often been shown, had made the unostentatious farmer-soldiers of New
England a formidable and resolute body when the day of the Revolution
came. Before that day the train-bands of the towns were the color and
music of the otherwise monotonous life. Four times a year came muster
with its drill, its competitive shooting, its feasting, its sports, and
its exercise of self-government in the election of officers. This
visible expression of the power of the community generated a
self-confidence and a spirit of generous comradery in the mind of the
young soldier; the courage which it gave, the habit of standing upright
in any presence, the belief that back of the voice lay the strong arm,
were parts of the education of such men as Webster.

Of the more specific literary education I have already spoken. Webster's
training as a scholar was that of other Americans of his day, neither
better nor worse; and indeed there was not much to choose between the
chances of town and country. So late as 1813 Mr. George Ticknor, in his
reminiscences, relates his difficulties in undertaking the study of
German in Boston: "At Jamaica Plains there was a Dr. Brosius, a native
of Strasburg, who gave instruction in mathematics. He was willing to do
what he could for me in German, but he warned me that his pronunciation
was very bad, as was that of all Alsace, which had become a part of
France. Nor was it possible to get books. I borrowed a Meidinger's
grammar, French and German, from my friend Mr. Everett, and sent to New
Hampshire, where I knew there was a German dictionary, and procured it.
I also obtained a copy of Goethe's 'Werther' in German (through Mr.
William S. Shaw's connivance) from amongst Mr. J. Q. Adams's books,
deposited by him, on going to Europe, in the Athenæum, under Mr. Shaw's
care, but without giving him permission to lend them."[2] Mr. Hillard,
in commenting on this, says well that "there are now, doubtless, more
facilities in New England for the study of Arabic or Persian than there
were then for the study of German." But it was not yet even 1813 in
Hartford and its neighborhood, and in the middle of the eighteenth
century the literary resources were meagre in the extreme. Learning was
not concentrated in the towns, but the access to books there was easier.
The country minister, who was the scholar, literary man, and
school-master, fell back largely upon the Greek and Latin classics, and
upon the few books of the day which he could get in his rare journeys to
Boston. In Boston itself there were book-stores, and John Mein,
afterward a royalist refugee, kept a circulating library in 1765 at
what was known as the London bookstore. It numbered some twelve hundred
volumes, and boasted a printed catalogue. It gives some indication of
the condition of the book business in Boston that he advertised, about
ten years before the out-break of the war, a stock of above ten thousand
volumes. If Dr. Perkins, Noah Webster's school-master, went to New Haven
to draw books from the college library, he found there in 1765 "a good
library, consisting of about four thousand volumes, well furnished with
ancient authors, such as the Fathers, Historians, and Classics; many
modern valuable books of divinity, history, philosophy, and mathematics;
but not many authors who have wrote within these thirty years."[3]

We are more concerned to know the kind of reading which was at Webster's
command when a boy outside of his school hours. That the severer
literature dominated seems evident from the recourse which he has to it
in his writings when he wishes illustrations; for, like others of his
day, the classic authors, especially of Rome, were quoted with a sense
of their being final authority. The newspaper in Webster's youth had
scarcely yet asserted itself very forcibly. The few centres of
population had journals, which did not travel very far beyond the place
of publication. The Connecticut "Courant," a weekly newspaper, was
started in Hartford in 1764, and was of the better class, poorly
printed, but serving as a medium for communications from its readers;
the leading article was anticipated by the letter to the editor or
printer, and with the exception of a scanty abstract of news the
"Courant" may be said to have been edited by its subscribers,--a policy
which made such papers very good reflections of the feeling of the
community. Older and better established than the newspaper was the
almanac, which throve in New England and performed a familiar service in
every household. Mr. Ames or Mr. Lord, and their fellows, addressed
readers in the jaunty, unconventional style which was regarded as
appropriate to a class of literature which was neither fish, flesh, nor
fowl, and after their preliminary talk and their monthly calendar, with
its wonderful comments, gave the page or two that remained to anecdotes,
poetry, and miscellaneous literature. The calendar was headed by verse,
which was taken usually from English authors of the time, and sometimes
was treated serially. Thus in one almanac the poem of "Porsenna in
pursuit of the Kingdom of Felicity" trails along the head of the twelve
months, and at the end is announced to be continued next year; next year
it starts on its journey again, and overflows upon one of the extra
pages, but still is unfinished; a third year it makes a desperate effort
to come to an end, but the editor is obliged to announce, "Conclusion
omitted this year for want of room;" and only when a fourth year has
come is he able to get rid of this continued poem. Think of the
impatience of readers who had to wait from year to year for four years
before they could finish reading this work of art! As the years of the
war drew near, the contents of these little books took on a more martial
character, and the poetical _feuilleton_ gave place to a military

Jejune enough do these hints seem to make the life in which Webster
grew up: but if it was poverty-stricken as compared with the abundant
resources of our own day,--if the Hartford of 1765 is to be contrasted
with that of 1881, to the manifest disadvantage of the former,--one
would wish to remember that in the very sterility of that life there was
a certain iron which entered into the constitution of the people who
lived it. If there were not the leisure and culture of the present day,
neither were there the mental indolence and dissipation. Ames's Almanac
was a joyless sort of light literature, but at least it did not reduce
intellectual recreation to a mere frivolous indulgence of the mental
faculties. A fine picture could be drawn of Webster on the one side,
extracting what juice he could from the chippy leaves of the almanac and
"Courant," and of a youth of this year, entering a public library with
his card, and having the range of a hundred thousand volumes; but the
real comparison is to be made between the results in character and
production. We are painfully familiar with the lists of books which
constitute the reading of the average boy of to-day, and know perfectly
well that they are very often narcotic and stimulant. The reading which
was had with such difficulty in the middle of the eighteenth century may
sometimes have acted as a sedative, but it was by reason of quality and
scarcity more generally brave food; in the mind of the reader there was
an immense respect for literature which induced a genuine hunger for
books, and the individuality of one who had intellectual tastes was not
impaired, as so often happens now, but fortified and enriched.

The farm, the social round, the school, the college, the out-door
sports, the in-door books and papers, were all parts of the circumstance
which affected the life of the youth, but no picture of the time would
be complete which omitted the influence upon him of the church. He would
grow up with the impression that the meeting-house was the principal
building in town, the minister the principal person, and Sunday the
principal day. A curious illustration of the strong hold which the
religious observance of Sunday had upon the colonists then is in the
construction of what were known as Sabbath-Day Houses, which I think
were peculiar to Connecticut. At any rate, there is so good a
description of them by a son-in-law of Webster's that I give it here:--

"These houses were from twenty to twenty-five feet in length, and from
ten to twelve feet in breadth, and one story high, with a chimney in the
middle, dividing the whole space into two rooms, with a partition
between them, for the accommodation of two families, who united in
building the house. The furniture consisted of a few chairs, a table,
plates and dishes, some iron utensil, it may be, for warming food which
had been cooked. Besides the Bible, there was sometimes a book on
experimental religion, like Baxter's 'Saints' Rest,' or Allein's
'Alarm.' On the morning of the Sabbath the mother of the family, with
provident care, put up her store of comforts for the dinner, substantial
or slight fare as most convenient, a bottle of cider almost of course.
The family then set off from their home in a large two-horse sleigh, or
on saddles and pillions. They stopped at the Sabbath-day house, kindled
a blazing fire, and then went forth to shiver in the cold during the
morning services. At noon they hurried back to their warm room. After
they had taken their meal, and by turns drunk from the pewter mug,
thanks were returned. Then the sermon came under review, from the notes
taken by the father of the family, or a chapter was read from the Bible,
or a paragraph from some favorite author, the service concluding with
prayer or singing. After again visiting the sanctuary, the family would
return to the Sabbath-day house, if the cold was severe, before they
sought their home. The fire was then extinguished, the door was locked,
and the house remained undisturbed during the week. In time the custom
of repairing to these houses changed; the houses themselves became
dilapidated, or furnished a refuge for the poor. They were better suited
to those times, when so much was thought of private family religion,
than they would be to ours, when religion has become more of a public
and social concern. The last Sabbath-day house which I remember stood on
the land owned by the first minister. It was occupied by John King, a
Hessian deserter from the British army. It was owned by one of the
Nortons. The present writer can recollect as many as half a dozen of
these houses."[4]

The legislation thrown about the Sabbath was in confirmation of the
public opinion regarding its sanctity. The harsher aspects of this
observance have been sufficiently dwelt upon in our histories; the
effect upon character has been less considered, but the elevation of one
day out of the tyranny of work, the resolute facing of eternal
mysteries, and the withdrawal into a half-brooding, half-active state of
mind must have had a powerful effect upon the imagination and
conscience. The meeting-house was no holy building, but the Sabbath day
was a holy day, and was the most comprehensive symbol of the Puritan
faith. It was what the altar is in the Catholic Church, the holy of
holies, about which the whole movement of religious worship gathered.
Whatever disturbed the profound stillness of the day was seized upon by
the law as sacrilegious; and never, perhaps, has there been a religion
which succeeded so completely in investing time with the sacredness
which elsewhere had been appropriated by place. Even the approach to the
Sabbath was guarded, and the custom of the observance of Saturday
evening appears to have been derived from the backward influence of the
day, as the release upon Sunday evening appears to have been a
concession to the flesh, which would otherwise have rebelled. Dr.
Bushnell, in his "Age of Homespun," tells of his own experience in
boyhood, when he was refused a load of apples, which he had gone to buy
on Saturday afternoon, because the farmer, on consulting the sun,
decided that he could not measure out the fruit before the strict
Sabbath began.

The minister again represented to the young New Englander the highest
expression of human attainment. He was righteous and he was learned.
Learning he had in a severe and lofty form, and though there was little
in his outward dress to mark him as a priest of God, he was isolated
from the community by his authority and profession, so that he answered
rather to one's conception of a prophet. Before him were brought
offenders against Sabbath decorum, and the minister's study was to the
boy the most awful room into which he could enter. This association of
learning with piety served to heighten still further the respect with
which learning was regarded, and to separate the young student almost by
a special laying on of hands. The minister also usually had his glebe,
and held a common interest with the farmers of the neighborhood,--a
humanizing relation which had much to do in preserving the real respect
in which he was held. The positive influence of religion upon life, by
being identified with the highest intellectualism and the most eminent
persons, had thus both its strength and weakness. There was wanting the
large and comprehensive spirit of an historic church; there was the
peril of a too abstract regard for religion; but on the other hand there
was a very strong stimulus to individualism. No one with any force of
character could grow up under these influences without being vigorously
affected by them.


[1] An examination of the Yale catalogue shows that, with some
fluctuations, the proportion of clerical alumni to the whole number of
graduates fell off pretty surely during the middle of the century. In
the decades marked by Webster's graduation, the proportion was roughly
as follows: in 1748, nearly one half the class entered the ministry; in
1758, nearly one third; in 1768 one fourth; in 1778, one tenth.

[2] _Life, Letters, and Journals of George Ticknor_, i. 11, 12.

[3] _President Clap's Annals_, under date of 1765.

[4] _History of Durham, Connecticut_. By William Chauncey Fowler, LL.
D., pp. 97, 98.



"In the year 1782, while the American army was lying on the bank of the
Hudson, I kept a classical school in Goshen, Orange County, State of New
York. I there compiled two small elementary books for teaching the
English language. The country was then impoverished, intercourse with
Great Britain was interrupted, school-books were scarce and hardly
attainable, and there was no certain prospect of peace."

These words have doubtless a familiar sound to the reader. They form the
phrases which Webster never wearied of repeating, and whenever he had
occasion to refer to the beginning of his literary career he fell
naturally into this paragraph. It became a formula for the expression of
a fact which was embedded in his mind as a stone marking a point of
departure. There is a consciousness in it of the beginning of a great
enterprise, and certainly, when one considers the immense stream which
has flowed from this little rill, he may seriously stand and gaze at the
young school-master and his two small elementary books. The modesty of
the statement agrees with the size of the books, but not with the
expansiveness of the composite title. The work projected by Webster was
"A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, comprising an Easy,
Concise, and Systematic Method of Education, designed for the Use of
English Schools in America." The "Institute" was to be in three parts,
which were, in brief, a speller, a grammar, and a reader. The formal and
dignified title of the work was the tribute which Webster paid to
old-fashioned scholarship; and it is curious to see the evolution by
which it finally became the well-known "Elementary." One or two ideas
were working their way out in Webster's mind. In the first place he did
not like the book generally in use, "Dilworth's New Guide to the English
Tongue;" then he saw with more or less clearness that, in the separation
from England that was fast taking place, the people in America must
necessarily have their own school-books, and his mind ran forward even
to a belief in a distinct and separate literature and a considerable
difference in language. Yet at this time I am not sure that he
appreciated the pregnant truth, so familiar to us now, of a vital
connection between popular education and popular sovereignty. He began
to see it, and was influenced by it; but his work was mightier than he
then knew, for he had not been educated in a free republic.

How simple and slight a change in methods of text-books marks the
introduction of Webster's spelling-book, from which millions of
Americans have learned to spell the names on a ballot! Lay Dilworth and
a first Webster side by side: the likeness and the difference of the two
are apparent. It is clear that Dilworth served as a model, and that
Webster's book started simply as an improvement upon the English
original. Even in externals there is a similarity. The early editions of
Webster had a dim, hacked-out engraving on wood of Noah Webster, Jr.,
Esq., to correspond with the scarcely more refined portrait of Tho.
Dilworth which prefaces the "New Guide." Both books have long lists of
words, proceeding from the simplest combination to words of five
syllables, and even in Dilworth to proper names of six syllables,
containing such retired words as Abelbethmaacah; but in Webster these
lists proceed upon a regular gradation of pronunciation, while in
Dilworth they follow such confusing and arbitrary order as is indicated
by the heading, "Words of five, six, etc., letters, viz.: two vowels and
the rest consonants; the latter vowel serving only to lengthen the sound
of the former, except where it is otherwise marked," which is nearly as
luminous as a direction in knitting. Each offers illustrated fables as
reading lessons, and shorter sentences are provided for first lessons in
reading. In Dilworth these are, without exception, taken from the
Psalms, or made up to order to look like apocryphal psalms; in Webster
there is a suggestive divergence, for while, as in Dilworth, the first
sentence is, "No man may put off the law of God," it takes a very few
pages for the child to reach the very practical passage, "As for those
boys and girls that mind not their books, and love not church and
school, but play with such as tell tales, tell lies, curse, swear, and
steal, they will come to some bad end, and must be whipt till they mend
their ways." The child brought up on Dilworth is practiced until nearly
the last page of the work upon the lesson of the first sentence, with
variations. Other differences would be suggested at once by the use of
the two books. In Dilworth the child learns all manner of English proper
names and abbreviations likely to be of use, such as Ldp., Bp., Rt.
Wpful, Rt. Honble, Ast. P.G.C. and P.M.G.C., the last two standing, as
the reader has of course already guessed, for Astronomy Professor of
Gresham College, and Professor of Music at Gresham College, which we
politely take to have been Tho. Dilworth's Alma Mater. In a note at the
foot of the column, T. D. adds: "It argues a disrespect and slighting to
use contractions to our betters." The character of this torture of the
innocent was probably determined by the use for which it was intended in
England, as indicated by Mr. Dilworth's dedication "To the Reverend and
Worthy Promoters of the several Charity Schools in Great Britain and

Webster's Institute, on the other hand, was plainly meant for the farmer
boys and girls of his country. "The spelling-book," he says in one of
his essays, "does more to form the language of a nation than all other
books," and the man who first supplied our young nation with a
spelling-book has undoubtedly affected its spelling habits more than any
other single person. But Webster was a moralist and a philosopher as
well as a speller. He was by no means restricted in his ambition to the
teaching of correct spelling; he aimed to have a hand in the moulding of
the national mind and the national manners. In his preface to "The
American Spelling-Book," he says: "To diffuse an uniformity and purity
of language in America, to destroy the provincial prejudices that
originate in the trifling differences of dialect and produce reciprocal
ridicule, to promote the interest of literature and the harmony of the
United States, is the most earnest wish of the author, and it is his
highest ambition to deserve the approbation and encouragement of his
countrymen." His spelling-book, accordingly, in its early editions
contained a number of sharp little warnings in the form of footnotes,
which imply that he seized the young nation just in time to prevent the
perpetuation of vulgar errors, since these, if they once became
universal, would have compelled the hereditary Webster to make them the
basis of orthoepic canons. Thus, _ax_ is reprobated when _ask_ is
intended; Americans were to say _wainscot_, not _winch-cott_; _resin_,
not _rozum_; _chimney_, not _chimbly_; _confiscate_, not _confisticate_.
Since these warnings disappeared after a few years it may be presumed
that he regarded the immediate danger as passed; but the more
substantial matters of good morals came to have greater prominence, and
in addition to the columns of classified words, which constitute almost
the sole contents of the earliest edition, there came to be inserted
those fables and moral and industrial injunctions, with sly reminders of
the virtue of Washington, which have sunk into the soft minds of
generations of Americans. There was a Federal catechism, and a good deal
of geographical knowledge regarding counties and county towns, to be
taken economically in the form of spelling lessons. The successive
editions became way-marks of the progress of the nation, and so
important did the book rapidly become that though its compiler was fast
throwing off the bondage of Anglican spelling, he never dared to make
the book conform to his own principles; venturing only to hint in his
preface at the orthographic reform which he longed to make. "The
spelling," he says, "of such words as publick, favour, neighbour, head,
prove, phlegm, his, give, debt, rough, well, instead of the more natural
and easy method: public, favor, nabor, hed, proov, flem, hiz, giv, det,
ruf, wel, has the plea of antiquity in its favor; and yet I am convinced
that common sense and convenience will sooner or later get the better of
the present absurd practice."

The pictures which came to bring art as an adjunct in impressing the
young mind were of the order already familiar in the New England Primer,
ingenuous in their simple straightforwardness and of uncompromising
faithfulness to nature. The fable of the Boy that stole Apples, which I
have never been able to trace back of Webster, but through him has
become a part of our mental furniture, is briskly set forth at one of
its points in a queer wood-cut. The old man in his continental coat has
only gone as far as words, and the boy is just reaching out his arm for
the round apple near him. If another picture had been given, the old
man's coat would have been off and that boy would have been seen
slithering down the trunk of the tree; and in the third fable of the Fox
and the Swallow there is a phalanx-like arrangement of the tormenting
flies which appeals strongly to the imagination.

The second part of a Grammatical Institute was a grammar,--"a plain and
comprehensive grammar founded on the true principles and idioms of the
language." Webster had fallen upon Lowth's "Short Introduction to the
English Grammar," and upon the basis of that book drew up his grammar
for the use of American youth. But the principal result of his work
seems to have been the introduction of his own mind to the study. Six
years afterward he wrote: "The favorable reception of this prompted me
to extend my original plan, which led to a further investigation of the
principles of language. After all my reading and observation for the
course of ten years I have been able to unlearn a considerable part of
what I learnt in early life, and at thirty years of age can with
confidence affirm that our modern grammars have done much more hurt than
good. The authors have labored to prove what is obviously absurd,
namely, that our language is not made right; and in pursuance of this
idea have tried to make it over again, and persuade the English to speak
by Latin rules, or by arbitrary rules of their own. Hence they have
rejected many phrases of pure English, and substituted those which are
neither English nor sense. Writers and grammarians have attempted for
centuries to introduce a subjunctive mode into English, yet without
effect; the language requires none distinct from the indicative; and
therefore a subjunctive form stands in books only as a singularity, and
people in practice pay no regard to it. The people are right, and a
critical investigation of the subject warrants me in saying that common
practice, even among the unlearned, is generally defensible on the
principles of analogy and the structure of the language, and that very
few of the alterations recommended by Lowth and his followers can be
vindicated on any better principle than some Latin rule or his own
private opinion."

Accordingly, besides publishing some dissertations on the subject, he
issued a new grammar in 1807, based this time on Horne Tooke's
Diversions of Purley, an author with whom Webster would naturally be in
sympathy. This grammar never had a firm hold of the public, and was
subsequently incorporated into the prefatory matter of his great
dictionary, where he says: "My researches into the structure of language
had convinced me that some of Lowth's principles are erroneous and that
my own grammar wanted material corrections. In consequence of this
conviction, believing it to be immoral to publish what appeared to be
false rules and principles, I determined to suppress my grammar, and
actually did so."

Here we have his frankness of character, his honesty, his force of will,
and the impulsiveness with which he took up attractive theories. Perhaps
the most comprehensive statement of his ruling principle is that he was
governed by usage, but did not sufficiently discriminate between usage
by educated and usage by uneducated people; he had, indeed, so violent a
prejudice against grammarians in general, and so much respect for
popular instinct, that it was a recommendation to him when a phrase was
condemned by the grammarians, while in common use by the people. For
example he says in a Letter to the Governors, Instructors, and Trustees
of the Universities and other Seminaries of Learning in the United
States, "According to the grammars, the pronoun _you_, being originally
plural, must always be followed by a plural verb, though referring to a
single person. This is not correct, for the moment the word is generally
used to denote an individual, it is to be considered as a pronoun in the
singular number, the following verb should be regulated by that
circumstance and considered as in the singular.... Indeed, in the
substantive verb, the word has taken the singular form of the verb, _you
was_, which practice is getting the better of old rules and probably
will be established." But old rules have considerable vitality, and the
general opinion still is that if an individual permits himself to be
represented by a plural pronoun he must accept all the grammatical
consequences. "I will even venture to assert," he continues in the same
letter, "that two thirds of all the corruptions in our language have
been introduced by _learned_ grammarians, who, from a species of
pedantry acquired in schools, and from a real ignorance of the original
principle of the English tongue, have been for ages attempting to
correct what they have supposed _vulgar errors_, but which are in fact
_established analogies_.... In this country it is desirable that
inquiries should be free, and opinions unshackled. North America is
destined to be the seat of a people more numerous probably than any
nation now existing with the same vernacular language, unless one except
some Asiatic nations. It would be little honorable to the founders of a
great empire to be hurried prematurely into errors and corruptions by
the mere force of authority."

This appeal to the pride of the young nation is a curious instance of
the growing consciousness of Americanism which was more rampant in
Webster than in any of his contemporaries. The passages which I have
been quoting intimate the deference which Webster displayed toward the
people. He was one of the first to carry a spirit of democracy into
letters. Intense Federalist as he was, his Federalism agreed with a
stout anti-aristocratic spirit; and throughout his work one may detect a
confidence in the common sense of the people which was as firm as
Franklin's, and was used, in his enthusiasm, to determine questions in
language and literature never before brought to such a test.
Unquestionably a main source of Webster's strength and success lay in
this democratic instinct; it was not patriotism alone, it was the spirit
which hailed the new democracy, and in its very contempt of precedent
and historic authority disclosed its rude self-reliance.

This temper had a more favorable field for its exhibition in the third
part of "A Grammatical Institute" which bore the sub-title: "An American
Selection of Lessons in Reading and Speaking; calculated to improve the
Minds and refine the Taste of Youth, and also to instruct them in the
Geography, History, and Politics of the United States. To which are
prefixed Rules in Elocution, and Directions for expressing the Principal
Passions of the Mind." This laboriously emphatic title-page bears the
motto from Mirabeau: "Begin with the infant in his cradle; let the first
word he lisps be Washington." In strict accordance with this patriotic
sentiment, the compiler gives a series of lessons which would not be
inappropriate to any girl or boy who in infancy had performed the feat
of lisping the easy-going name which Mirabeau himself probably had some
difficulty in conquering. "In the choice of pieces," says Webster in his
preface, "I have been attentive to the political interests of America. I
consider it as a capital fault in all our schools that the books
generally used contain subjects wholly uninteresting to our youth; while
the writings that marked the Revolution, which are perhaps not inferior
to the orations of Cicero and Demosthenes, and which are calculated to
impress interesting truths upon young minds, lie neglected and
forgotten. Several of those masterly addresses of Congress, written at
the commencement of the late Revolution, contain such noble sentiments
of liberty and patriotism that I cannot help wishing to transfuse them
into the breasts of the rising generation." Accordingly, he makes
abundant room in his book for orations by Hancock, Warren, Livingston,
and Joel Barlow, and for poetry by Freneau, Dwight, Barlow, and
Livingston again, all kept in countenance by Cicero, Publius Scipio,
Shakespeare, and Pope, while a tribute is paid to "Mr. Andrus of Yale
College, since deceased," by the insertion of "A Dialogue written in the
year 1776." To plump from Joel Barlow at the North Church in Hartford,
July 4, 1787, to a portion of Cicero's oration against Verres, probably
produced no severe shock, since both orations were intended as exercises
in speaking, and the former by its structure was removed to about the
same chronological distance from the young speaker as the latter. It
would be a curious inquiry how far writers of historical addresses in
America have from the beginning been affected by the necessity which a
regard for ancient models laid upon them of fitting the facts of our
Revolutionary War to oratorical periods, and how far popular
conceptions of the beginning of our national life have been formed by
the "pieces" which young Americans have been called upon to speak. The
Roman was the most distinguished predecessor by name of this new
republic, and enthusiastic patriots went to it for literary furniture as
freely as their ancestors in New England applied to the Jewish
theocracy. In the contemporary ephemeral literature of the time there is
a faint survival of the older forms, but a more energetic reproduction
of Roman symbols, taken sometimes directly from Latin literature and
history, sometimes indirectly from the chill Augustan renaissance of the
English eighteenth-century literature. The interior manners of the two
periods are well contrasted in two sets of letters, the earlier passing
between John and Margaret Winthrop, the later between John and Abigail
Adams. The Scriptural allusions which crowd the Winthrop letters have
not wholly disappeared in the Adams letters, but they are more formally
introduced as fragmentary bits of wisdom, and appear side by side with
quotations from Pliny and Rollin's "Ancient History;" Mrs. Adams signs
herself Portia; the vessels which carry the letters are the Apollo, the
Juno, and the Minerva; and classical allusions constitute a good share
of such playfulness as may be found.

The judgment with which Webster made his reading selections largely from
American sources was not the result of a mere Anglo-phobia; it was the
product of an ardent, hopeful patriotism trained within narrow
provincial bounds. Webster was not old enough to have been much under
the impression of the English rule in America, and his days had been
spent in farming villages where the traditions were little affected by
foreign life, or in a college which jumped over intermediate centuries
to find models in Roman antiquity. His education, meaning by that the
cultivation of his powers by what were literary or circumstantial
influences, had made him quite exclusively an American and a republican;
when he began to give expression, therefore, to his mind, he was
unimpeded and unstimulated by anything outside of the horizon of his
frugal life; he was not so much opposed to foreign culture as he was
absolutely ignorant of it; and in his career we are called upon to
observe the growth of a mind as nearly native as was possible. If I am
not mistaken, that which was Webster's weakness as an individual man was
his strength as the pioneer of education in a new country.



The second and third parts of "A Grammatical Institute" did not make
Webster's fame or fortune. The first part had in it from the first the
promise of success. It may fairly be called the first book published in
the United States of America, and its publication, under all the
conditions of business then, was a bold venture. Each State was still a
law to itself, and no general act of Congress had yet been passed
conferring copyright. Webster's first business before he had actually
completed his spelling-book was to secure copyright laws in the several
States, and he began a series of journeys to Philadelphia and the state
capitals for this purpose. The history of his travels is the history of
the origin of copyright laws in this country; and inasmuch as Webster
has himself related in detail the steps which he took not only at this
time, but later, I introduce here his statement, including in it a
correspondence with Daniel Webster which has special interest at this
time, when the same considerations have been urged in the renewed
discussion of the subject.

"In the autumn of 1782 I rode to Philadelphia for the purpose of showing
my manuscripts to gentlemen of influence, and obtaining a law for
securing to authors the copyright of their publications. As the
legislatures of New Jersey and Philadelphia were not then in session,
the latter object could not then be accomplished. On my way I called on
Governor Livingston, then in Trenton, and inquired whether it was
probable that a copyright law could be obtained in New Jersey. The
Governor replied that if I would wait till noon he would consult his
council, then in session, and give me an answer. At the time appointed I
called again, when the Governor told me the council gave him very little
encouragement. In Princeton I waited on the Rev. Samuel Stanhope Smith,
then professor of theology in Nassau Hall, and afterward president of
that institution, who examined my manuscripts, recommended the works,
and expressed his opinion in favor of copyright laws....

"In October following I went to Hartford, with a view to petition the
Legislature of Connecticut, then in session in that place, for a law to
secure to me the copyright of my proposed book. The petition was
presented, but too late in the session to obtain a hearing. I then
returned to Goshen, and devoted the winter to a revision of my
manuscripts, and the introduction of some improvements which had been
suggested by gentlemen in Princeton and Philadelphia. In January, 1783,
I prepared another memorial to be presented to the Legislature of
Connecticut, for the purpose of procuring a copyright law, which
memorial was committed to the care of John Canfield, Esq. But the
necessity of it was superseded by the enactment of a general law upon
the subject. This law was obtained by the petition of several literary
gentlemen in that State.

"In the same winter I went to Kingston, in Ulster County, New York,
where the legislature was in session, with a view to present a petition
for the like purpose. The necessity of such petition was prevented by
the prompt attention of General Schuyler to my request, through whose
influence a bill was introduced into the Senate, which at the next
session became a law. In the same winter the Legislature of
Massachusetts enacted a copyright law, procured, probably, by the agency
of the Rev. Timothy Dwight, then a member of the House of

"As Congress, under the Confederation, had no power to protect literary
property, several gentlemen, among whom was Joel Barlow, presented a
memorial to that body, petitioning them to recommend to the several
States the enactment of such a law. In May, 1783, on the report of Mr.
Williamson, Mr. Izard, and Mr. Madison, Congress passed a resolution,
recommending to the several States to secure to authors or publishers of
new books, not before printed, the copyright of such books for a term
not less than fourteen years. In December, 1783, Governor Livingston
informed me by letter that the Legislature of New Jersey had passed a
law agreeable to the recommendation of Congress.

"In May, 1785, I undertook a journey to the Middle and Southern States,
one object of which was to procure copyright laws to be enacted. I
proceeded to Charleston, but the legislature not being in session, I
returned to Baltimore, where I spent the summer. In November I visited
General Washington at his mansion; he gave me letters to Governor
Harrison in Richmond, and to the speakers of both houses of the
legislature. The law desired was passed for securing copyrights. In
December I visited Annapolis, where the legislature was in session; and
in February I visited Dover, in Delaware, for the same purpose. On
petition, the Legislature of Delaware appointed a committee to prepare a
bill for a copyright law, just at the close of the session, but the
enactment was deferred to the next session. In the year 1790 Congress
enacted their first copyright law, which superseded all the state laws
on the subject.

"When I was in England in 1825 I learned that the British Parliament
had, a few years before, enacted a new law on copyrights, by which the
rights of authors were much extended. This led me to attempt to procure
a new law in the United States, giving a like extension to the rights of
authors. My first attempt appears in the following letter [to the Hon.
Daniel Webster, dated September 30, 1826]:--

"'Since the celebrated decision, respecting copyright, by the highest
British tribunal, it seems to have been generally admitted that an
author has not a permanent and exclusive right to the publication of his
original works at common law; and that he must depend wholly on statutes
for his enjoyment of that right. As I firmly believe this decision to be
contrary to all our best established principles of _right_ and
_property_, and as I have reason to think such a decision would not now
be sanctioned by the authorities of this country, I sincerely desire
that while you are a member of the House of Representatives in Congress
your talents may be exerted in placing this species of property on the
same footing as all property, as to exclusive right and permanence of

"'Among all modes of acquiring property, or exclusive ownership, the act
or operation of _creating_ or _making_ seems to have the first claim.
If anything can justly give a man an exclusive right to the occupancy
and enjoyment of a thing it must be the fact that he _made_ it. The
right of a farmer and mechanic to the exclusive enjoyment and right of
disposal of what they _make_ or _produce_ is never questioned. What,
then, can make a difference between the produce of _muscular strength_
and the produce of the _intellect_? If it should be said that as the
purchaser of a bushel of wheat has obtained not only the exclusive right
to the use of it for food, but the right to sow it and increase and
profit by it, let it be replied, this is true; but if he sows the wheat
he must sow it on his own ground or soil. The case is different with
respect to the copy of a book, which a purchaser has obtained, for the
copyright is the _author's soil_, which the purchaser cannot legally

"'Upon what principles, let me ask, can any fellow-citizens declare that
the production of the farmer and the artisan shall be protected by
common law, or the principles of natural and social rights, without a
special statute, and without paying a premium for the enjoyment of their
property, while they declare that I have only a temporary right to the
fruits of my labor, and even this cannot be enjoyed without giving a
premium? Are such principles as these consistent with the established
doctrines of property, and of moral right and wrong among an enlightened
people? Are such principles consistent with the high and honorable
notions of justice and equal privileges which our citizens claim to
entertain and to cherish, as characteristic of modern improvements in
civil society? How can the _recent origin_ of a particular species of
property vary the principles of ownership? I say nothing of the
inexpedience of such a policy, as it regards the discouragement of
literary exertions. Indeed, I can probably say nothing on this subject
that you have not said or thought; at least I presume you have often
contemplated this subject in all its bearings.

"'The British Parliament, about ten or twelve years ago, passed a new
act on this subject, giving to authors and proprietors of new works an
absolute right to the exclusive use of the copyright for twenty-eight
years, with some other provisions which I do not recollect; but the act
makes or continues the condition that the author or proprietor shall
deposit _eleven copies_ of the work in Stationers' Hall, for the benefit
of certain public libraries. This premium will often amount to _fifty
pounds sterling_, or more. An effort was made by publishers to obtain a
repeal of this provision; but it was opposed by the institutions which
were to receive the benefit, and the attempt failed.

"'I have a great interest in this question, and I think the interest of
science and literature in this question are by no means inconsiderable.
I sincerely wish our legislature would come at once to the line of right
and justice on this subject, and pass a new act, the preamble to which
shall admit the principle that an author has, by common law, or natural
justice, the sole and _permanent_ right to make profit by his own labor,
and that his heirs and assigns shall enjoy the right unclogged with
conditions. The act thus admitting the right would prescribe only the
_mode_ by which it shall be ascertained, secured, and enjoyed, and
violations of the right punished; and perhaps make some provisions for
the case of attempts to elude the statute by slight alterations of books
by mutilations and transpositions.'

"To this letter Mr. Webster returned the following answer:--

"'BOSTON, _October 14, 1826_.

"'DEAR SIR,--I have received yours of the 30th of September, and shall,
with your permission, lay it before the committee of the judiciary next
session, as that committee has in contemplation some important changes
in the law respecting copyright. Your opinion, in the abstract, is
certainly right and uncontrovertible. Authorship is, in its nature,
ground of property. Most people, I think, are as well satisfied (or
better) with the reasoning of Mr. Justice Yates as with that of Lord
Mansfield in the great case of Miller and Taylor. But after all,
property, in the social state, must be the creature of law; and it is a
question of expediency, high and general, not particular expediency, how
and how far the rights of authorship should be protected. I confess
frankly that I see, or think I see, objections to make it perpetual. At
the same time I am willing to extend it further than at present, and am
fully persuaded that it ought to be relieved from all charges, such as
depositing copies, etc.

"'Yours, D. WEBSTER.'

       *       *       *       *       *

"In the autumn of 1827 I applied to the Hon. Mr. Ingersoll, a
representative from Connecticut, stating to him the facts of an
extension of copyright in Great Britain, as also in France, and
requesting him to use his influence to have a bill for a new law brought
forward in Congress. Mr. Ingersoll very cheerfully complied. On the 17th
December, on the motion of Mr. Ingersoll, the House of Representatives
'_Resolved_, that the committee on the judiciary inquire into the
expediency of extending the time for which copyrights may be hereafter
secured to authors, beyond the period now allowed by law; and also of
affording further protection to authors against the publication of
abridgments or summaries of works, after the copyrights thereof have
been secured.' As the committee delayed several weeks to make a report,
Mr. Ingersoll conversed fully on the subject with one of the members,
and addressed a note to the committee, in which he stated the provision
of the British Statute 34th Geo. III., enlarging the rights of authors,
and the liberal provisions of the French laws on the subject. He stated
some of the defects of the old law of the United States, and urged the
expediency and justice of a more liberal law.

"A petition signed by many respectable literary men was, about this
time, presented to Congress, praying for the same object. Some members
of the committee were opposed to the measure; but at length, on the
first of February, 1828, the committee reported a bill consisting of
three sections only, extending the term of copyrights from fourteen to
twenty-eight years, and securing the benefit of the act to authors who
had previously obtained a copyright under the old law. On the 21st of
February, Mr. Verplanck submitted to the House of Representatives an
amendment to the bill reported by the committee, entitled an 'Amendment
to a Bill to amend and consolidate the Acts respecting Copyrights.' This
amendment was printed by order of the House. It was intended to embrace
all the material provisions of the two former laws, and those of the
bill reported by the judiciary committee; it contained also some
additional improvements. Nothing further was done, and the bill and
amendment died at the close of the session.

"At the next session (1829-1830) the Hon. Mr. Ellsworth, a member from
Connecticut, was appointed one of the judiciary committee, of which the
Hon. Mr. Buchanan was chairman. Before Mr. Ellsworth left home, I
applied to him to make efforts to procure the enactment of a new
copyright law, and sent a petition to Congress, praying for the renewal
of the copyright of one of my books. This petition, being referred to
the judiciary committee, brought the subject distinctly into
consideration. After consultation, the committee authorized Mr.
Ellsworth to prepare a bill for a general law on the subject. In order
to present the subject in its true light to the committee and to
Congress, Mr. Ellsworth wrote notes to the ministers of the principal
European nations, requesting information from each of them respecting
the state of copyrights in the nations they represented. From their
answers, and an inspection of the laws of some of the governments, Mr.
Ellsworth framed a report, stating the terms of time for which
copyrights are secured to authors in Great Britain, France, Russia,
Sweden, Denmark, and certain states in Germany. He also framed a bill
for a law intended to embrace all the material provisions of the old
laws with those of the bill reported by the former judiciary committee.

"In this bill Mr. Ellsworth introduced some valuable provisions which
had been omitted in the old laws, and in the bill and amendment offered
at the former session. He also obtained from his friends some
suggestions which enabled him to correct some errors and supply defects.
This bill was approved by the judiciary committee, reported by Mr.
Ellsworth, and printed by order of the House. But such was the pressure
of business, and so little interest was felt in the bill, that no
efforts of Mr. Ellsworth could bring it before the House at that

"Finding the efforts of the friends of the bill in Congress to be
unavailing to obtain a hearing, I determined in the winter of 1830-1831
to visit Washington myself, and endeavor to accomplish the object.
Accordingly I took lodgings at the seat of government, where I passed
nine or ten weeks; and during this time read a lecture in the Hall of
the Representatives, which was well attended, and, as my friends
informed me, had no little effect in promoting the object of obtaining a
law for securing copyrights.

"The difficulties which had prevented the bill from being brought
forward now disappeared. The bill, at the second reading in the House of
Representatives, met with some opposition; but it was ably supported by
Mr. Ellsworth, Mr. Verplanck, and Mr. Huntington. It passed to a third
reading by a large majority, and was ordered to be engrossed without
opposition. When the bill came before the Senate, it was referred to the
judiciary committee. Mr. Rowan, the chairman, being absent, the
committee requested the Hon. Daniel Webster to take the bill, examine
it, and report it if he thought proper; he did so, and under all
circumstances deemed it expedient to report it without amendment. On the
second reading Mr. Webster made a few explanatory remarks: no other
person uttered a word on the subject; and it passed to a third reading
by a unanimous vote. On the third reading, the Senate, on motion,
dispensed with the reading, and it passed to be engrossed, without

"In my journeys to effect this object, and in my long attendance in
Washington, I expended nearly a year of time. Of my expenses in money I
have no account, but it is a satisfaction to me that a liberal statute
for securing to authors the fruit of their labor has been obtained."

       *       *       *       *       *

In this summary the whole history of the copyright statutes appears, and
it is interesting to note that the earliest action by the States and
Congress received its impulse from Webster's spelling-book; the later
and final form of the law was adopted in connection with Mr. Webster's
indefatigable efforts, and the first book to take advantage of it was
his "American Dictionary." His keen sense of the business relations of
his literary work is seen in this early and late energy in securing
satisfactory copyright laws. It is noticeable, too, that in his
correspondence with Daniel Webster he took the position which has of
late been held as the only solution of all copyright questions. Noah
Webster may not have been a great man in his generation, but he had a
singular faculty of being the first in time in many departments of
literary industry, and constantly to have anticipated other people.

Wherever he went he showed the rough draft of his book; he assailed
members of Congress and men of eminence generally. He had faith in it,
and he lived at a time when the individual testimony of men was of
greater weight than now. There were no organs of literary or educational
opinion, no academies or bodies of men especially esteemed as juries in
the case of any book on trial, and indorsements were looked for as
essential to the success of any new venture. There was no great public
to show its interest by buying, and there were no publishers of capital
and organization to relieve the author of publishing labor. In the
recently published correspondence of Jeremy Belknap and Ebenezer
Hazard,[5] one may read the difficulties encountered by a scholarly man
in getting his historical work published. The correspondence for two
years between these gentlemen, with reference to the publication of
Belknap's "History of New Hampshire," a volume of five hundred pages,
shows that every detail of paper, print, and binding, and almost all
arrangements for securing subscriptions, fell upon the author and his
friend, acting for and with him. Subscribers were sought with painful
endeavor, one at a time, and all the points at issue were discussed in
letters which seemed sometimes to travel by chance.

Webster, without money, and almost without friends, but with the kind of
faith which works miracles with other people's faith, succeeded at
length in persuading Hudson & Goodwin, printers in Hartford, to issue an
edition of five thousand copies of the spelling-book. John Trumbull and
Joel Barlow were his chief supporters, the latter backing him with a
little money. The printer was the publisher then; and an author, in
making his arrangements, was accustomed to sell the right to print and
publish to various printers in various parts of the country,--a custom
which continued through the first quarter of the century. The isolation
of the several settled communities rendered collision between the
several dealers unlikely; and, in the absence of quick communication, no
place had any advantage except as a dépôt for the neighboring district.
Rights to print were granted for fourteen years. Such a contract was
made in 1818 by Webster with Mr. Hudson, who was to pay $3,000 a year
during the term. The reader will recall similar arrangements in Irving's
ventures. The popularity of the speller rendered it liable to piracy,
especially in the ruder parts of the country, and as late as 1835 Mr.
Webster writes to his son, established as a bookseller in Louisville: "I
would suggest whether it would not be advisable to publish in Kentucky,
or at least in Tennessee, a short note like this: 'The Public are
cautioned against buying "Webster's American Spelling-Book;" the
editions now in the market are pirated, badly printed, and incorrect.
The author expressly disclaims them.'"

The final success of the little book has been quite beyond definite
computation, but a few figures will show something of the course it has
run. In 1814, 1815, the sales averaged 286,000 copies a year; in 1828
the sales were estimated to be 350,000 copies. In 1847 the statement was
made that about twenty-four million copies of the book had been
published up to that time, and that the sale was then averaging a
million of copies a year. It was also then said, that during the twenty
years in which he was employed in compiling his "American Dictionary,"
the entire support of his family was derived from the profits of this
work, at a premium for copyright of five mills a copy. The sales for
eight years following the Civil War, namely, 1866-1873, aggregated
8,196,028; and the fact that the average yearly sale was scarcely
greater than in 1847 may be referred in part to the great enterprise in
the publication of school-books, which has marked the last twenty years,
by which his speller has been one only of a great many, in part, also,
to the impoverishment of the South where Webster's book had been more
generally accepted than at the North.

The great demand that there was for elementary school-books, the real
advance of Webster's over any then existing, the promptness with which
he met the first call, all these causes combined to give a great impetus
to the little book. At first sight there seems something amusing in the
importance which not only Webster but other men of the time attached to
the spelling-book. Timothy Pickering, in camp at Newburgh, waiting for
the final word of disbanding, sat up into the night to read it! "By the
eastern post yesterday," he writes to his wife, "I was lucky enough to
receive the new spelling-book [Webster's] I mentioned in my last, and
instead of sleeping (for I had a waking fit which prevented me), I read
it through last night, except that I only examined a part of the
different tables. I am much pleased with it. The author is ingenious,
and writes from his own experience as a school-master, as well as the
best authorities; and the time will come when no authority, as an
English grammarian, will be superior to his own. It is the very thing I
have so long wished for, being much dissatisfied with any spelling-book
I had seen before. I now send you the book, and request you to let John
take it to his master, with the enclosed letter; for I am determined to
have him instructed upon this new, ingenious, and, at the same time,
easy plan. There are, you will see by the Introduction, two more parts
to come to complete the plan. I am a stranger to Mr. Webster, but I
intend, when I can find leisure, to write him on the subject, using the
liberty (which he requests) to suggest some little matters which may be
altered and improved in his next edition, for I think the work will do
honor to his country, and I wish it may be perfect. Many men of
literature might think it too trifling a subject; but I am of a
different opinion, and am happy that a gentleman of Mr. Webster's genius
and learning has taken it up. All men are pleased with an elegant
pronunciation, and this new Spelling-Book shows children how to acquire
it with ease and certainty."[6]

Pickering's letter helps us to get behind "Webster's Spelling-Book" in
1783, instead of looking at it from this later vantage-ground of an
accumulated American literature. There runs through the correspondence
of that day a tone which we easily call provincial, but is nevertheless
a distinct expression of the consciousness of the young nation. The
instinct of literature is toward self-centring, and the sense of
national being was very strong in men who had been giving their days and
nights to the birth of a new nation. To understand the state of things
in 1783 we should look at the literary ventures, inclusive of
educational, within the boundaries of the Southern States during the War
of 1861-1865. There the interruption of commerce with the North
compelled a resort to home production in school-book literature, and
intensity of feeling upon sectional questions found frequent expression
in spelling-books and arithmetics. "Webster's Elementary" was reprinted
at Macon, without illustrations and some of the diacritical marks,
_mutatis mutandis_ The reader finds the morals of the book and the
earlier patriotism unchanged, but remembers its latitude when he reads:
"The Senate of the Confederate States is sailed the Upper House of
Congress: The President of the Confederate States is elective once
every six years: The Confederate States have a large extent of
sea-coast, and many parts of the Confederate States are noted for the
fertility of the soil." But these are innocent adaptations; one must
look to the arithmetics for sectional feeling.

In Webster's time, men whose lives had been spent in the struggle for
independence and autonomy looked upon everything relating to their
country with a concentration of interest which not only attested the
sincerity of their convictions, but made them indifferent to the larger,
more universal standards. They were seeing things with American, not
European eyes. When Dr. Belknap and his friend Mr. Hazard were carefully
arranging for the publication of the "History of New Hampshire," they
made proposals to the Longmans, in London, to take an edition, without
any apparent suspicion that such a book might lack readers in England.
The publishers' polite reply intimates the "apprehension that the
history of one particular province of New England would not be of
sufficient importance to engage the attention of this country, and
particularly as it is at present brought down no lower than the year
1714." Belknap's History is an admirable piece of work, the first
scholarly work of its kind on this side of the water, and Dr. Belknap
respected his book. To him, as to many of that generation, a book was a
serious undertaking, and each new one that came was carefully weighed
and its character measured; a history of New Hampshire was not a mere
piece of local self-complacency, but a dignified adventure into a
portion of American history hitherto unexplored. The work expended upon
it was as careful and grave as if the subject had been the Peloponnesian
War. Indeed, one of the substantial evidences of the historic
justification of the war for independence is to be found in the alacrity
with which the scholarly element in the country busied itself about
themes which were close at hand and connected with the land of their

Literature in its finer forms had but slender encouragement. The absence
of easy communication, the poverty of the people, the dispersion of the
population, gave little chance for bookstores and circulating libraries
and private accumulation. It must not be forgotten, either, that the era
of cheap books had not yet come in England, and that the periodical form
was still in embryo. To look back on one of the rather juiceless
periodicals which sprang up so frequently at the beginning of our
literature because they had no depth of earth, and withered away
rootless and sunstruck, is to be over-taken half with scorn for their
pretense, and half with pity for conductors and readers, who had to make
believe very hard to find them quite nice. "They would bear a little
more seasoning certainly," like the marchioness's orange-peel and water;
yet how strong must have been the passion for literature when money was
expended and pains taken with these hopeless ventures. The change in
popular taste, moreover, must not mislead us into supposing that
writings which are arid to us now were necessarily devoid of interest to
contemporary readers. We take down from the shelf the solitary volume
which contains the "American Magazine," and its reading-matter looks as
faded to our eyes as the leather upon the covers, but it was once the
latest publication of the day. We can with little difficulty imagine
that the monthly report of Warren Hastings' trial, with its plan of the
High Court at Westminster, would have an interest at the time quite as
reasonable in its way as that which held readers of journals, not so
long extinct, over the details of the Tichborne case. It is in the field
of polite literature that our later taste refuses to discover anything
in common with the readers of the "American Magazine." What impresses
one most in such a periodical is the value which the conductors set upon
American historical material. This was offered to the public with all
the assurance which now attends the promise of a great serial story. The
explanation may most reasonably be found in the fact, that the
subscribers to any such magazine at the time must have been sought among
the well educated, and this class had been used chiefly to a serious
view of literature.

The "American Magazine" was Webster's venture, and in the Belknap and
Hazard correspondence one may find some curious incidents in the
struggle for existence which the magazine had. It should be premised
that neither of these gentlemen--and they represented the most
cultivated class of the day--had much confidence in Webster. They
nicknamed him the "Monarch," possibly from some assumption and arrogance
in his tone, and he is rarely mentioned by them except in a slighting
manner. "_I_ think the _Monarch_ a literary puppy, from what little I
have seen of him," writes Hazard to Belknap. "He certainly does not want
understanding, and yet there is a mixture of self-sufficiency,
all-sufficiency, and at the same time a degree of insufficiency about
him, which is (to me) intolerable. I do _not_ believe that _he_ is fit
for a superintendent; that the persons mentioned will be his coadjutors,
or that either the _demand_ or the _profits_ will be any way near equal
to his expectations. His specimens already published [three numbers of
the 'American Magazine'] are below mediocrity, and even in them _he_ is
too much the hero of the tale. His plan of a _Federal_ publication, if
sensible, judicious men could be engaged to execute it, and an editor of
the same stamp could be procured, I think would do well. _Considering
circumstances_, I would not advise you to engage with, him, but I think
you may avail yourself of his application with the Columbians; only take
care to do it in such a way that you may not, between two stools, fall
to the ground."

The "Columbian" was a magazine of a little older standing to which Dr.
Belknap had been contributing (his "Foresters" appeared there), and the
incident of the worldly-wise Hazard, gently encouraging the clergyman to
play the rivals against each other, has at least an approach to modern
literary history. Webster, with his restlessness, had no sooner launched
the "American Magazine" than he began to form other projects, as
intimated in Hazard's letter, and wished to secure not only Belknap's
pen, but his more active partnership. Hazard writes again to his friend,
after being asked for further advice: "I am really at a loss how to
advise you, but think, upon the whole, I would let the Columbians know
that 'my necessities also compelled the making a close bargain;' that I
had been applied to in behalf of the New York magazine, but felt myself
so much interested in their success (having been so long connected with
them) that I did not like to leave them, provided they would stipulate
to allow me, _certainly_, what I deemed a reasonable compensation for my
assistance, which they acknowledge they do not now allow; and that, upon
their doing this, I would continue to aid them. If you can contribute
the stipulated assistance to them in case you accept N. W.'s proposal, I
see no reason why you should not do the latter too; for, if you fulfill
your engagements, you do them no injustice. You may, in this case, as
well have two strings to your bow as not, and I think I would advise to
it, especially as the 'Columbian's' continuance is uncertain.[7] I would
inform N. W. that some consideration was necessary respecting his plan;
but that I was, upon the whole, inclined to think I would join him, if
he could get the other gentlemen he mentioned to me to be concerned. I
think no _cash_ is to be advanced by you, upon his plan. It will be some
months before he can begin, and I would not exclude myself from a

Dr. Belknap's letters to Webster unfortunately do not appear, but his
friend, through whom he wrote, commends him for his prudence. "I find,"
he writes, "you have not a more exalted idea of the Monarch than I have.
I should not be fond of a connection with him, unless I saw it clearly
to my interest." He praises him also for his exertions in behalf of the
feeble "Columbian," which owed its life to him, in his opinion. Oddly
enough, after all of Hazard's cautions and advice to Belknap, he seems
himself to have been involved in negotiations with Webster, and from
this point the correspondence has more interest as throwing light upon
the estimation in which literary material was held at the time. Mr.
Hazard had for a long time been making a collection of papers bearing
upon American colonial history, and had not seen his way clear to a
profitable publication of them. Noah Webster suddenly appears as the
agent for a new magazine in which he has a slight interest, and makes
proposals to Mr. Hazard. It is amusing to see how shy Hazard is of any
close connection with Webster, and yet how continually Webster appears
in the foreground in the affair.

"What would you think," writes Hazard to Belknap, "of my collection of
papers coming to light after lying in obscurity so long? It is likely to
be the case. The 'American Magazine' is to appear in a new form,[8] and
on an extensive plan, and to be the property of _a society_ of
gentlemen, among whom N. W. holds but one share; and I am told he is
going to remove from hence [New York] to Connecticut, so that he will
not be the editor. Their plan is to publish one hundred and four pages
monthly, fifty-six of them are to be in the usual magazine style,
twenty-four are to contain State Papers, and twenty-four either
historical _MSS._, such as 'Winthrop's Journal,' or a republication of
ancient, valuable, and scarce American histories, such as Smith's of
Virginia, etc., etc. N. W. called, to know if I would dispose of my
collection for this purpose, informing me that they intended to print in
such a way that the State Papers and histories might be detached from
the magazine and bound by themselves. After considering of the matter, I
concluded to let them have the collection for £500, which they agreed
to give. I don't altogether like this way of publishing the papers; but
when I reflected on the great uncertainty of my being able to publish
them at all, the risque I run by their remaining _in statu quo_, and the
little probability that I should clear £500 by them if I should publish,
I thought it best to say yes. The money is to be paid by installments.
All this is _inter nos_."

Dr. Belknap now had an opportunity to repay his friend's favors in kind,
and in acknowledging the letter just quoted he writes: "I could wish
that you would take off the restriction of secrecy, so far as it relates
to the intended publication of the magazine and its appendage, because I
apprehend it may be in my power to set on foot a similar publication
here; and the knowledge that such a design is on foot elsewhere may
prove a stimulus to the undertaking." He prudently remarks that the sale
made by his friend is good, "provided the purchasers do not fail in the
payment." Hazard returns to the matter in his next letter: "With respect
to the _MSS._ I made a pretty _safe_ bargain, and yet much will depend
on the success of the publication as to the _quickness_ of the pay....
By agreement I am to hand my papers out in monthly portions, and in
chronological order. The January magazine, or rather _Register_, is to
contain twenty-four pages of them, and as many of 'Winthrop's Journal.'
The design of the intended publication is no secret now, having been
advertised in the newspapers; but I write you not to say anything about
what I am to have for my papers.... N. W. had printed six sheets of
Winthrop, but, upon the new plan's striking him, he thought it best to
publish in the new mode; and I am told he will lose his expense so far,
for his paper is not so fine as the new work is to be done upon, _inter

Suddenly Hazard writes to Belknap that Webster is likely to call upon
him, and that if he offers him a partnership in the new magazine, he is
not at once to decline. It is not worth while to follow the ins and outs
of the correspondence upon a scheme which finally fell through, but a
full letter from Hazard to Belknap may fairly be drawn from, since it
puts one into tolerably complete possession of the whole story.

"You must know that N. W. has been for some time trying to get my State
Papers published, and he has generally proposed it in such a way as to
have a share in them himself. Several plans were proposed, and at last
the idea of the Register was started. He called on me and told me that
he had been speaking with some other gentlemen about being concerned in
the 'American Magazine,' and that they were to be concerned with him. He
informed me of their plan, and wished me to join them, and that my
papers might be published in the Register. He intimated that he had five
hundred subscribers [to the 'American Magazine'] who would continue to
take the new work, and that the improvement proposed would greatly
increase the number of subscribers. I objected against being a partner,
but had no objection against letting them have my papers for £500. After
a variety of negotiations, I consented to become a partner,--and they
agreed to allow me £500 for my papers, to be paid out of the profits of
the publication,--if they would yield me £50 per annum, at least, clear
of my share of all expenses; if not, the other proprietors were to make
up that sum to me annually; and, should the work be discontinued before
I was paid, they were then to pay me as much as with my profits (all
expenses first deducted) would make £500. Regular written articles were
drawn, and executed by all but one partner, who has not yet signed them,
nor will, 'til he sees such a number of subscribers in this city [New
York] and its vicinity as will defray the actual expense of the work.
The _profits_ he is willing to risque. He is a discreet, sensible man,
and will be what the sailors call our _main stay_. After the articles
were executed, some of the proprietors observed that they had given
their bond to me for £500, which must be paid at all events, and that I
was to run no risque, and, in fact, to pay no expense,--which was not
putting matters on a fair footing with respect to them (before the time
the proposals were published). They came and stated the case to me. I
immediately saw the propriety of their remarks, and without hesitation
agreed to a new article, that their bond for the price of my papers
should not be in force immediately _upon their publishing_ (which was
the case before), but that they might publish for three months; if they
then discontinued the publication, the bond was to be of no effect; if
they continued it after that period, it was to be in full force; and I
agreed to furnish my proportion of the State Papers, _i. e._, that, as
there were four proprietors, the others should pay me but £375,--the
remaining £125 being my proportion of the cost of the papers. Thus
relief was given on equitable principles.

"In the course of our conversations, at different times, _writers_ were
talked of; N. W. mentioned you. I agreed that you would be a very
suitable person, if you could be got to engage in it, but was
apprehensive your situation would not admit of it. N. W. had no doubt
you could be engaged, for he was very confident (or well persuaded, or
something of that kind) that you wrote for the 'Columbian,' and were
paid for it; and he ascribed the biographical pieces, in particular, to
you. Upon my asking the reasons of his opinion, he replied that he did
not know (or believe) that anybody else possessed suitable materials;
but I suspect he has had more particular information in Philadelphia.
It was suggested among the proprietors that Thomas's magazine[9] would
interfere with us in Massachusetts, where we hope for a number of
subscribers; and N. W. afterwards hinted to me the idea of a coalition,
which I was pleased with. He told me he was going to the eastward, and
would talk with Thomas about it. I _supposed_ that he would talk with
_you_ too, and gave you the hint that you might be prepared. It seems he
has done so; and by last post I received proposals for an union, which I
have laid before the proprietors here, and they are disapproved of. Upon
this plan, the _Register_ was to be printed here, and the _Magazine_ in
Boston. One of the proprietors here was to furnish half the matter for
the magazine monthly, and forward it to Boston, where N. W. was to act
as editor, or engage Mr. Belknap, or some person of equal ability, to
act for him; and this editor was to furnish the other half of the
matter. As a compensation for my papers, I was to be a proprietor of a
seventh of both publications, for they were to be separate. All
expenses, bad debts, and other losses were to be divided equally among
the partners. These proposals were signed by Noah Webster and Isaiah
Thomas & Co. In a letter to me, N. W. sent a calculation, by which he
attempted to prove that the value of a share would be near £200 per
annum. Such an hint might have done for a person unacquainted with the
nature of the business, but old birds want a more substantial temptation
than chaff. A principal objection against the plan of union was the
risque and expense of sending materials and publications backwards and
forwards through so great a distance: one failure would be fatal to one
month's magazine, and a repetition of such a disaster would discourage
subscribers. The subscribers here would probably not be satisfied with a
magazine printed elsewhere, and could not be furnished with one so early
in the month; and, for my part, I am not willing to give up my papers on
so precarious a chance of a recompense.

"N. W. (notwithstanding his obligation under hand and seal) confesses
himself unwilling to continue the Magazine and Register on our first
plan; and I am much mistaken if the other proprietors do not disappoint
him by taking him at his word and releasing him from his obligations;
for his being known to be concerned makes the subscription go on heavily
(this _inter nos_). _His_ magazine was a paltry performance, and people
fear a continuation of it. We cannot find his five hundred subscribers
yet. We have but about two hundred in this city, most of whom have been
tempted by my papers, as is said. We agreed among ourselves not to let
the proprietors be known, but N. W. has let the cat quite out of the
bag. I am clear for going on without him, which I think may be done
better than with him; and my plan would be that a sufficient number of
literary characters should be united to make the most, if not the whole,
of the magazine _original_. The profits upon each share (especially at
first) would be but small; but so, on the other hand, would be the
risque. Suppose there should be _no_ profit for a year or two, and that
the work should but barely defray the expense for that time, yet it may
be presumed that, if it was conducted with spirit, the public would
patronize it, being sure of original entertainment, and that at length
the property would become very valuable. What do you think of this

Dr. Belknap's reply to this letter is the last reference to the project
which has any interest: "The Monarch called upon me last Monday evening,
when I was abroad, and left word that he should come again next day at
noon, _upon business_. The _real_ business was to fish out what I had
heard from you. I had then received only your short letter, and told him
that I had heard nothing. He talked about the magazine, and about my
being a partner, and about the business of an editor, and about his
being a lawyer (which, by the way, was new to me), and about the value
of a share, which, as he then estimated it, would be from £50 to £100
per annum, etc., etc., but expected to hear from you and the proprietors
more particularly by the next post, and then we were to have a farther
conference. The next post brought me your long letter, and he has not
made his appearance since. I suppose, by what you say in _confidence_
to me, that he finds he cannot be director general, and possibly
suspects that he may have very little to do. I find myself under some
embarrassment with regard to this _personage_. However, as he is going
to marry into a family with some branches of which I have long had a
very agreeable connection, I must suffer myself to be in a degree of
acquaintance with him, especially if (as he _threatens_) he should make
this place [Boston] his future residence. If I cannot esteem him as a
friend, I do not wish to make him an enemy, and I am very awkward in the
art of Chesterfield. Hence arises my embarrassment. What he has told
Thomas I know not, but I must do him the justice to say that he did not
tell me the names of any of the proprietors, excepting yourself and
himself; nor do I know who the others are."

Hazard's papers were finally published by themselves, and the Magazine
and Register never got beyond the proposals point. Before the collection
was published, however, another magazine loomed up, for the regular
failure of each venture never seemed to dampen the ardor of magazine
projectors. The story of the enterprise sketched in these letters may be
taken as the story of all,--sanguine literary men and inert subscribers;
a class of material is reckoned upon which always seems abundant, vastly
interesting to the persons who hold it, but insufficient to beguile
subscribers. Mr. Hazard, with his collection of papers, expects five
hundred pounds, and his associates think him not unreasonable,
especially after he agrees to pay one fourth himself; and with all his
prudence and shrewdness he begins to count on the profits of the
magazine with something of Webster's facile hope.

Webster himself, in spite of the dislike with which Hazard and Belknap
agreed to regard him, appears in an honorable light. No doubt he was
consequential and eager to have a hand in what was going on, but he had
the confidence and courage which seem to have been lacking in his
associates. His impulsive dashes at literature and capricious excursions
into the realms of language were offensive to highly conservative and
orderly scholars like these correspondents, and they sniffed at him
rather contemptuously; but Webster could disregard the criticism of
others when he had such unbounded self-reliance and zeal. He did not
count the cost carefully of what he undertook, but allowed himself the
luxury of seizing at once upon what engaged his interest. The
publication of "Winthrop's Journal," referred to in the correspondence,
was an undertaking which a more scholarly man might have set about with
greater care and deliberation. Webster never read the original. He saw a
copy from it in the possession of Governor Trumbull, and, perceiving the
value of the material, made haste to get it published. He employed a
secretary of the governor, who made a copy of the copy, comparing it
with the original, which Webster had never seen. Mr. Savage, the learned
editor of the Journal in its complete form, sarcastically says: "The
celebrated philologist, _who in his English Dictionary triumphed over
the difficulties_ of derivation in our etymology from Danish, Russian,
Irish, Welsh, German, high or low, Sanscrit, Persian, or Chaldee
fountains, might, after exhausting his patience, have reputably shrunk
from encounter with the manuscript of Winthrop." But it was something
for Webster to have succeeded in securing a publication of the book in
1790, and the credit due him is not lessened by the fact that he risked
his whole property in the enterprise, and lost money.

He was at this time far from being settled in life. For half a dozen
years he had been scrambling along as well as he could, teaching,
lecturing, practicing a little law, working his books, writing for the
newspapers, securing the passage of copyright laws, trying this city and
that with new ventures, none of which gave him a subsistence. Meanwhile,
he had met in Philadelphia a Boston lady, whom his diary shows him to
have followed with the zeal of his ardent nature; and it is not to be
wondered at that he carried his point here, as so often elsewhere, and
settled, as he thought at the time, in Hartford, in 1789, with his wife,
Rebecca, daughter of Mr. William Greenleaf, of Boston. His brief account
of himself at this date was in the summary: "I had an enterprising turn
of mind, was bold, vain, and inexperienced." John Trumbull, writing to
Oliver Wolcott, announces that "Webster has returned, and brought with
him a pretty wife. I wish him success, but I doubt, in the present decay
of business in our profession [the law], whether his profits will enable
him to keep up the style he sets out with. I fear he will breakfast upon
Institutes, dine upon Dissertations, and go to bed supperless." The
breakfast was indeed likely to prove the only substantial meal; how
substantial it proved we have already noticed. No doubt Webster appeared
to his friends, as half to himself, a restless, uneasy man, incapable of
steady application to law, and making hazardous ventures in literature
in that combined character of author and publisher which the
circumstances of the time rendered almost necessary to any one who
undertook to make a profession of letters.

It is a little significant of Webster's relation to literature that he
moved outside of the knot of men known in our literary history as the
Hartford wits. So many recent claimants for the position of democratic
jester have engaged the public attention that the Hartford wits who
amused our grandfathers rest their fame now rather upon tradition than
upon any perennial liveliness. By their solitude in the pages of
American literature their very title has acquired a certain gravity, and
we are apt to regard them with respect rather than to read them for
amusement. Fossil wits seem properly to be classed with the formation
from which they are dug, and not with living types of the same order.
Yet no picture of the times in which Webster lived would be complete
without a slight reminiscence of this coterie, and the fact that Webster
was the neighbor of these men and himself living by letters suggests a
fresh illustration of the truth that kinship in literature is something
finer and closer than mere circumstantial neighborliness. Trumbull,
Hopkins, Alsop, Dwight, and the minor stars in this twinkling galaxy,
were staunch Federalists, and the occasion of their joint efforts was
chiefly political, but Webster's Federalism did not give him a place in
the set.

The "Echo" was the title which the wits gave to a series of satires that
mocked the prose of the day. If an editor published a piece of bloated
writing, the bubble was pricked by the poetical version; if a
politician disclosed his weakness, his words were caught up and made to
turn him into ridicule. The wits were on the lookout for humbug in any
quarter, but they had their pet aversions, Sam Adams and the Jacobins
being oftenest pilloried. A bombastic account of a thunder-storm in
Boston appears to have given occasion for the first skit, and it was
scarcely necessary to do more than parody the grandiloquent newspaper
language. "The clouds soon dissipated, and the appearance of the azure
vault left trivial hopes of further needful supplies from the uncorked
bottles of heaven. In a few moments the horizon was again overshadowed,
and an almost impenetrable gloom mantled the face of the skies.... The
majestic roar of disploded thunders, now bursting with a sudden crash,
and now wasting the rumbling ECHO of their sounds in other lands, added
indescribable grandeur to the sublime scene." The suggestion of the
"Echo" came from this phrase, and the success of the first venture
easily directed the writers into the use of their instrument for lashing
political enemies. Two numbers were given to matters of trivial or
temporary interest, and then there was a shot at a piece of fustian in
the "Boston Argus" on Liberty, followed shortly after by a gibe at some
correspondent of the "Argus," who frantically exclaimed, on the occasion
of a town meeting refusing to hear Sam Adams: "Shall Europe hear, shall
our Southern brethren be told, that Samuel Adams rose to speak in the
midst of his fellow-citizens, and was silenced!" A few lines from this
satire will best illustrate the vigorous treatment which the wits
employed, and the gusto with which they jostled the great Democrat:--

  "Shall Europe hear, shall Gallia's king be told,
  That Prince so spirited, so wise and bold,
  Whose duteous subjects, anxious to improve
  On common forms of loyalty and love,
  Took from their sovereign's hands the reins of state,
  For fear his royal nerves could not support the weight?
  And shall our worthy brethren of the South
  Be told Sam Adams could not ope his mouth?
  That mouth whence streams of elocution flowed,
  Like tail of saw-mill, rapid, rough, and loud,
  Sweet as the honey-dews that Maia pours
  O'er her green forests and her tufts of flowers,--
  That potent mouth, whence issued words of force
  To stun an ox, or terrify a horse.
  Be told that while those brats whose feeble sight
  But just had oped on Freedom's dawning light,
  Born in the nick of time that bliss to know
  Which to his great and mighty toils we owe,
  Received applause from Sages, Fools, and Boys,
  The mighty Samuel could not make a noise?
  Be told that, silenced by their clam'rous din,
  He vainly tried one word to dove-tail in;
  That though he strove to speak with might and main
  His voice and strivings equally were vain?

         *       *       *       *       *

  Hard has he toiled and richly earned his gains,
  Ruined his fingers and spun out his brains
  To acquire the right to ope his ponderous jaws,
  As the great champion of Sedition's cause.
  Once his soft words like streams of melted tar
  Stuck in our cars and led us on to war;
  But now we hear the self-same accents flow
  Unmoved as quails when buried up in snow.
  Is his voice weak? That dreadful voice, we're told,
  Once made King George the Third through fear turn cold,
  Europa's kingdoms to their centre shake,
  When mighty Samuel bawl'd at Freedom's stake.

         *       *       *       *       *

  Does his hand shake?   When Sam cried out for war
  His potent hand spread many a coat of tar,
  That sinewy hand the feathers scattered o'er
  Till Tories' jackets made their bellies sore.
  Say, for whose sake has Time, that Barber gruff,
  O'er his wise noddle shook his powder puff?
  Was the task hard to hear the sage's noise?
  Perhaps the awful sound had frightened boys;
  But we, the sons of wisdom, fond to hear,
  With joy had held the breath and oped the ear.
  Did we e'en doubt that Solomon had spoke?
  If so, has memory vanished into smoke."

The most of the succeeding numbers had reference to politics, but room
was found for excursions in other fields: "Monier's Advertisement for a
School," and "Newtonian Philosophy," served as pegs from which to hang
rhymed jests, and the writers would very likely have taken a wider range
if there had been a wider range in public interests. But politics
dominated thought, and the wits were as bitter partisans as they were
clever rhymesters. The poetry of the anti-Jacobin supplied them with the
suggestion of form; but there was not the lightness of touch or deft
mimicry which characterized those remarkable political skits. As one
reads the "Echo," and the "Green-house," and Trumbull's "McFingal," he
is constantly reminded of the heaviness of the education which formed
the substance of the writers' preparation for their task. The rudeness
of the satire is the rudeness of a homespun society.

The authors of the "Echo," when the series came to be reissued in a
volume, provided a somewhat solemn preface, in which they say: "The
principal poems in this volume, under the title of the 'Echo,' owed
their origin to the accidental suggestion of a moment of literary
sportiveness, at a time when pedantry, affectation, and bombast pervaded
most of the pieces published in the gazettes, which were then the
principal vehicles of literary information. Willing to lend their aid to
check the progress of false taste in American literature, the authors
conceived that ridicule would prove a powerful corrective, and that the
mode employed in the 'Echo' was the best suited to this purpose.... But
the ridicule of a vitiated mode of writing was not long the sole object
of the 'Echo.' The important political changes which soon after
occurred, not only in Europe, but in America, produced a corresponding
change in the republic of letters; and some of the principal gazettes of
this country exhibited a disgusting display, not only of a perversion of
taste in composition, but a still greater perversion of principle, in
that hideous morality of revolutionary madness, which, priding itself in
an emancipation from moral obligation, leveled the boundaries of virtue
and vice, while it contemptuously derided the most amiable and sacred
feelings of our nature. Disgusted with the cruelties exhibited by the
French Revolution at a very early stage of its progress, and viewing it
as a consuming fire, which, in the course of its conflagration,
threatened to destroy whatever was most valuable in society, the authors
wished to contribute their efforts in stemming the torrents of
Jacobinism in America, and resolved to render the 'Echo' subservient to
that purpose. They therefore proceeded to attack, as proper objects of
satire, those tenets, as absurd in politics as pernicious in morals, the
visionary scheme of equality, and the baleful doctrine that sanctions
the pursuit of a good end by the most flagitious means."

Webster's judgment of the condition of literature in the country at a
time when he was seeking to live by it is contained in a frank statement
which he makes in one of his letters to Dr. Priestley. That philosopher
had addressed certain letters to the inhabitants of Northumberland, in
which he undertook to lecture them as a philosophical and wise
Englishman might properly lecture the citizens of a young and
inexperienced republic. Webster replied in ten letters and a
postscript, which were collected into a pamphlet and published at New
Haven, in 1800. He contends throughout that Dr. Priestley did not know
his countrymen, and especially that he was ignorant of New England; he
corrects his political judgments, but admits the force in general of his
social and literary criticisms. The picture which Webster draws of the
condition of America at the beginning of the century is instructive, and
explains, indeed, much of his own career:--

"I agree with you fully that our colleges are disgracefully destitute of
books and philosophical apparatus, and that a duty on books without
discrimination is highly impolitic. Very many of the best authors cannot
be printed in the United States for half a century or more; and I am
ashamed to own that scarcely a branch of science can be fully
investigated in America for want of books, especially original works.
This defect of our libraries I have experienced myself in searching for
materials for the history of Epidemic Diseases.

"In regard to the state of learning in general, your remarks are not
sufficiently discriminating. You say there is 'less knowledge in
America than in most of the countries of Europe.' The truth seems to be
that in the Eastern States knowledge is more diffused among the laboring
people than in any country on the globe. The learning of the people
extends to a knowledge of their own tongue, of writing and arithmetic
sufficient to keep their own simple accounts; they read not only the
Bible and newspapers, but almost all read the best English authors, as
the 'Spectator,' 'Rambler,' and the works of Watts, Doddridge, and many
others. If you can find any country in Europe where this is done to the
same extent as in New England, I am very ill informed.

"But in the higher branches of literature our learning is superficial to
a shameful degree. Perhaps I ought to except the science of law, which,
being the road to political life, is probably as well understood as in
Great Britain; and ethics and political science have been greatly
cultivated since the American Revolution. On political subjects I have
no hesitation in saying that I believe the learning of our eminent
statesmen to be superior to that of most European writers, and their
opinions more correct. They have all the authors on these subjects,
united with much experience, which no European country can have had.
This has enabled our statesmen to correct many of the theories which
lead astray European writers.

"But as to classical learning, history, civil and ecclesiastical,
mathematics, astronomy, chymistry, botany, and natural history,
excepting here and there a rare instance of a man who is eminent in some
one of these branches, we may be said to have no learning at all, or a
mere smattering. And what is more distressing to me, I see everywhere a
disposition to decry the ancient and original authors, which I deem far
superior to the modern, and from which the best modern writers have
drawn the finest parts of their productions.

"There is another circumstance still more afflictive to a man who is
attached, as I am, to a republican government, and one that I perceive
has not occurred to you. This is that the equal distribution of estates
and the small property of our citizens, both of which seem connected
with our form of government, if not essential to it, actually tend to
depress the sciences. Science demands leisure and money. Our citizens
have property only to give their sons a four years' education, a time
scarcely sufficient to give them a relish for learning, and far
inadequate to wide and profound researches. As soon as a young man has
closed this period of study, and while he is at the beginning of the
alphabet of science, he must betake himself to a profession, he must
hurry through a few books,--which, by the way, are rarely original
works, but compilations and abridgments,--and then must enter upon
practice, and get his living as well as he can. And as to libraries, we
have no such things. There are not more than three or four tolerable
libraries in America, and these are extremely imperfect. Great numbers
of the most valuable authors have not found their way across the

"But if our young men had more time to read, their estates will not
enable them to purchase the books requisite to make a learned man. And
this inconvenience, resulting from our government and the state of
society, I know not how to remedy. As this, however, is the government
to which you are attached, you will certainly do us a great service if
you can devise a plan for avoiding its disadvantages. And I can further
inform you that any application to legislatures for money will be
unsuccessful. The utmost we can do is to squeeze a little money
occasionally from the public treasuries to furnish buildings and a
professor or two. But as to libraries, public or private, men who do not
understand their value will be the last to furnish the means of
procuring them. Besides, our rage for gain absorbs all other
considerations; science is a secondary object, and a man who has grown
suddenly from a dunghill, by a fortunate throw of the die, avoids a man
of learning as you would a tiger. There are exceptions to this remark,
and some men of taste, here and there scattered over our country, adorn
the sciences and the moral virtues....

"If the Americans are yet in their leading-strings as to some parts of
literature, there is the more room for improvement; and I am confident
that the genius of my fellow-citizens will not be slack in the
important work. You will please to recollect, sir, that during one
hundred and sixty years of our childhood we were in our nonage;
respecting our parent and looking up to her for books, science, and
improvements. From her we borrowed much learning and some prejudices,
which time alone can remove. And be assured, Dr. Priestley, that the
parent is yet to derive some scientific improvements from the child.
Some false theories, some errors in science, which the British nation
has imbibed from illustrious men, and nourished from an implicit
reliance on their authority, are to be prostrated by the penetrating
genius of America."

It is plain that Webster, aware of the deficiencies of his country in
learning, was not rendered entirely submissive by his knowledge, and was
not at all disposed to accept the relation of pupilage as a permanent
one. He worked with such material as he had, and as a part of the
intellectual movement of the day brought for his contribution both
industry and an elastic hope.


[5] _Belknap Papers_, v., Coll. Mass. Hist. Soc. iii.

[6] _Life of Timothy Pickering_, i. 479, 480.

[7] Nothing in these periodical ventures seems so certain as their

[8] It was now in its last number for the year.

[9] The _Massachusetts Magazine_, shortly after commenced by Isaiah



We have seen that a man who made a spelling-book could be a patriot in
making it; it is easy to believe that a patriot in Webster's day could
be a very active participant in public affairs. There was as yet no
marked political class; every man of education was expected to write,
talk, and act in politics, and Webster's temperament and education were
certain to make him interested and active. He began very early to have a
hand in those letters to newspapers which preceded the editorial article
of the modern newspaper. The printer of a newspaper was substantially
its editor, and was likely to be a man engaged in public affairs, but
his paper was less the medium for his own views than a convenient
vehicle for carrying the opinions and arguments of lawyers, ministers,
and others.

Webster began contributing to the "Connecticut Courant," published in
Hartford, as early as 1780, his first contribution being some remarks on
Benedict Arnold's letter of October 7th to the inhabitants of America.
He wrote again the next week on Arnold's treason, and for the next four
or five years was an occasional contributor upon subjects of finance,
banking, the pay of soldiers, congressional action, events of the war,
and copyright. "In 1783," he writes of himself, "the discontents in
Connecticut, excited by an opposition to the grant of five years' extra
pay to the officers of the army, became alarming, and two thirds of the
towns sent delegates to a convention in Middletown to devise measures to
prevent the resolve of Congress from being carried into execution. I
then commenced my career as a political writer, devoting weeks and
months to support the resolves of Congress.... Of the discontents in
Connecticut in 1783, which threatened a commotion, there is no account
in any of the histories of the United States,--not even in
Marshall's,--except a brief account in my history; the present
generation being entirely ignorant of the events. The history of this
whole period, from the peace of 1783 to the adoption of the
Constitution, is, in all the histories for schools, except mine, a
barren, imperfect account; although it was a period of great anxiety,
when it was doubtful whether anarchy or civil war was to be our

This was written in 1838, when Webster was eighty years old. The
character of that interregnum of 1783-1789 is more generally recognized
now; and it is interesting to see how an old man, recalling his earliest
entrance into public life, emphasizes the service which he rendered upon
the side of good government. By early associations, and by the
predilections of a mind which inherited a large share of Anglo-Saxon
political sense, Webster was from the first a Federalist in politics. In
1785 he published a pamphlet entitled "Sketches of American Policy,"
which he always claimed was the first public plea for a government to
take the place of the Confederation, under which the war had been
carried on. He held a correspondence with Mr. Madison, in 1805, for the
purpose of substantiating this claim, since it had recently been
asserted that the federal government sprang from Hamilton's thought. Mr.
Madison very temperately and sensibly wrote to Webster:--

"The change in our government, like most other important improvements,
ought to be ascribed rather to a series of causes than to any particular
and sudden one, and to the participation of many rather than to the
efforts of a single agent. It is certain that the general idea of
revising and enlarging the scope of the federal authority, so as to
answer the necessary purposes of the Union, grew up in many minds, and
by natural degrees, during the experienced inefficacy of the old
Confederation. The discernment of General Hamilton must have rendered
him an early patron of the idea. That the public attention was called to
it by yourself at an early period is well known."

We are not especially concerned with Webster's claim except as it
illustrates his character and activity. He was a busy-body, if I may
recover to better uses a somewhat ignoble word. We have seen him
traveling back and forth, visiting the state capitals and public men in
behalf of his "Grammatical Institute," lecturing and writing, projecting
magazines, and putting himself into the midst of whatever was going on.
The air was full of political talk, and Webster was the conductor that
drew off some of it. He rushed eagerly into pamphlet-writing, both
because he had something to say, and because he never stepped back to
see if any one else was about to say it. He had no public character to
preserve, and he issued his pamphlet as he delivered his sentiments upon
many subjects,--to whomever he might catch. He carried it to Mount
Vernon and put it into the hands of General Washington, and Madison saw
it there. The nickname of the Monarch, which Belknap and Hazard gave
him, fitted a young man of aggressive self-confidence, who saw no reason
why he should not have his say upon the subject which was upper-most in
men's minds, and used the means most natural to him and most convenient.

Alexander Hamilton was but a year older than Noah Webster, and was
indeed a much younger man when he first took part in the discussion of
public affairs. Hamilton was a man with a genius for statesmanship; in
Webster we see very significantly marks of political common sense, the
presence of which in the American mind at that day made Hamilton's
leadership possible. It would be hard to find a better illustration of
the average political education of Americans of the time than is shown
by Webster in this pamphlet and in other of his writings. We are
accustomed sometimes to speak of the Constitution as a half-miraculous
gift to the American people, and to look with exceptional reverence upon
the framers of that instrument. Well, that mind is on the whole quite as
sound as the contemptuous tone taken by Von Holst when he affirms that
"the Constitution had been extorted from the grinding necessity of a
reluctant people."[11] In these words, however, Von Holst himself
scarcely does justice to his own convictions, and they are rather an
extreme form of protest against an extravagant adulation of the
Constitution. Better instruments on paper have been drawn and applied to
conditions of society which were fatal to their efficacy; but the
calling of the convention, the framing of the Constitution, and the
final adoption were possible because in the community at large the ideas
of freedom and of self-government had already been formulated in local
institutions for generations, and for generations had been moulding the
character of the popular thought. The towns, the parishes, the boroughs,
of the early colonies were the inheritors of communal ideas which had
filtered from Germanic free communities through English parishes; under
the favoring conditions of a new world and its unchecked enterprise they
had become political units of great integrity. The colonies, with their
local government, modified rather than controlled by royal or
proprietary influence, had already learned many lessons of autonomy: the
period of the war had confirmed these several powers, and the conclusion
of the war found them still in possession of their interior organic
life, and lacking only that sovereignty which they had resisted and
overthrown. But the state life was incomplete: there was an absence of a
solid sovereignty in which the States could rest, and the political
thought of the independent colonies required for its final fulfillment
the depositary of national consciousness which the King and Parliament
had been, but could no longer be. It was the working out of this
practical political thought which issued in the Constitution and central
government, and it was possible to be worked out only because there had
been generations of Americans trained in political life.

Webster was one of these men. He was the product of the forces which had
been at work in the country from the earliest days. English freedom,
which had forced its ways to these shores, had grown and increased under
the fostering care of self-government and native industry. He had been
born and brought up in a New England country village, the type of the
freest and most determinate local government; he had been educated at a
democratic college; he had shouldered his musket in a war for the
defense not of his State alone, but of his country, vague and ill
defined though its organic form might be. When, therefore, the war was
over, and the country was free and compelled to manage its own affairs,
he was qualified to take part in that management, and his temper led him
to look for fundamental grounds of conduct.

His "Sketches of American Policy" thus interests us as the political
thinking of a young American, of lively disposition, candid mind, and
rash confidence. It could not help being a reflection of other
literature and thought; but its best character is in its sturdy and
resolute assertion of English freedom as requiring a central authority
in which to rest. It is curious, in the opening pages, to see how, in
his theories of government, he is led away by the popular and alluring
philosophy of Rousseau and Rousseau's interpreter, Jefferson. When he
undertakes to explain the rationale of government he is a young man,
captivated by the current mode; when he reaches the immediate, practical
duty he is an Englishman, speaking to the point, and lighting upon the
one unanswerable demand of American political life at the time. In the
earlier pages of his "Sketches" he lays down his Theory of Government,
which is, in brief, that of the _contrat social_, but presented in a
homely form, which brings it nearer to the actual life of men; he
concludes his observation with a definition of the most perfect
practicable system of government as "a government where the right of
_making_ laws is vested in the greatest number of individuals, and the
power of _executing_ them in the smallest number." "In large
communities," he adds, "the individuals are too numerous to assemble for
the purpose of legislation: for which reason, the people appear by
substitutes or agents,--persons of their own choice. A representative
democracy seems, therefore, to be the most perfect system of government
that is practicable on earth." He finds no such government on the
Continent of Europe, or in history; but when he comes to America he
views with satisfaction a state of things which renders possible the
actual fulfillment of his ideal. "America, just beginning to exist, has
the science and the experience of all nations to direct her in forming
plans of government." There is an equal distribution of landed property,
freed from the laws of entail and primogeniture; there is no standing
army, and there is freedom from ecclesiastical tyranny; education is
general; there is no artificial rank in society, and from necessity
Americans are not confined to single lines of industry; but various
occupations will meet in one man. "Knowledge is diffused and genius
roused by the very situation of America."

From these considerations he proceeds to lay down a "Plan of Policy for
improving the Advantages and perpetuating the Union of the American
States." This union, he shows, cannot depend upon a standing army, upon
ecclesiastical authority, or upon the fear of an external force; it must
find its reason in the constitutions of the States, and he sees,
therefore, the need of a supreme head, in which the power of all the
States is united. "There must be a supreme head, clothed with the same
power to make and enforce laws respecting the general policy of all the
States, as the legislatures of the respective States have to make laws
binding on those States respecting their own internal police. The truth
of this is taught by the principles of government, and confirmed by the
experience of America. Without such a head the States cannot be
_united_, and all attempts to conduct the measures of the continent will
prove but governmental farces. So long as any individual State has power
to defeat the measures of the other twelve, our pretended union is but a
name, and our confederation a cobweb." He illustrates his point by the
analogy of the Constitution of Connecticut. It is clear that by the head
of the Union he meant the combined executive and legislative force,
which in the Constitution was vested in the President and Congress. He
recognizes the necessity of an authoritative head, but he had not in his
own mind separated the powers of government. He clings fast to the
doctrine that all power is vested in the people, and proceeds from the
people, and he pleads for such a union as may be analogous to the union
of towns in the State, where the power of all the towns united is
compulsory over the conduct of a single member. "The general concerns of
the continent may be reduced to a few heads; but in all the affairs that
respect the whole, Congress must have the same power to enact laws and
compel obedience throughout the continent as the legislatures of the
several States have in their respective jurisdictions. If Congress have
any power, they must have the whole power of the continent. Such a power
would not abridge the sovereignty of each State in any article relating
to its own government. The internal police of each State would be still
under the sole superintendence of its legislature. But in a matter that
equally respects all the States no individual State has more than a
thirteenth part of the legislative authority, and consequently has no
right to decide what measure shall or shall not take place on the
continent. A majority of the States _must_ decide; our confederation
cannot be permanent unless founded on that principle; nay, more, the
States cannot be said to be _united_ till such a principle is adopted in
its utmost latitude. If a single town or precinct could counteract the
will of a whole State, would there be any government in that State? It
is an established principle in government that the will of the minority
must submit to that of the majority; and a single State or a minority of
States ought to be disabled to resist the will of the majority, as much
as a town or county in any State is disabled to prevent the execution
of a statute law of the legislature. It is on this principle, and _this
alone_, that a free State can be governed; it is on this principle alone
that the American States can exist as a confederacy of republics. Either
the several States must continue separate, totally independent of each
other, and liable to all the evils of jealousy, dispute, and civil
dissension,--nay, liable to a civil war, upon any clashing of
interests,--or they must constitute a general head, composed of
representatives from all the States, and vested with the power of the
whole continent to enforce their decisions. There is no other
alternative. One of these events must inevitably take place, and the
revolution of a few years will verify the prediction."

In answering possible objections to the scheme, he rests in the power of
the people, who "forever keep the sole right of legislation in their own
representatives, but divest themselves wholly of any right to the
administration." He refuses to believe that there is any danger from
centralization so long as the people use the power which is vested in
them. "These things," he concludes, "demand our early and careful
attention: a general diffusion of knowledge; the encouragement of
industry, frugality, and virtue; and a sovereign power at the head of
the States. _All_ are essential to our peace and prosperity, but on an
energetic continental government principally depend our tranquillity at
home and our respectability among foreign nations. We ought to
generalize [that is, delocalize] our ideas and our measures. We ought
not to consider ourselves as inhabitants of a particular State only, but
as _Americans_, as the common subjects of a great empire. We cannot and
ought not wholly to divest ourselves of provincial views and
attachments, but we should subordinate them to the general interests of
the continent. As a member of a family every individual has some
domestic interests; as a member of a corporation he has other interests;
as an inhabitant of a State he has a more extensive interest; as a
citizen and subject of the American empire he has a national interest
far superior to all others. Every relation in society constitutes some
obligations, which are proportional to the magnitude of the society. A
good prince does not ask what will be for the interest of a county or
small district in his dominions, but what will promote the prosperity of
his kingdom. In the same manner, the citizens of this New World should
inquire, not what will aggrandize this town or that State, but what will
augment the power, secure the tranquillity, multiply the subjects, and
advance the opulence, the dignity, and the virtues, of the United
States. Self-interest, both in morals and politics, is and ought to be
the ruling principle of mankind; but this principle must operate in
perfect conformity to social and political obligations. Narrow views and
illiberal prejudices may for a time produce a selfish system of politics
in each State; but a few years' experience will correct our ideas of
self-interest, and convince us that a selfishness which excludes others
from a participation of benefits is, in all cases, self-ruin, and that
_provincial_ interest is inseparable from _national interest_."

It will be seen that Webster, though confused sometimes in his
phraseology, and weak in his philosophy, did see with an English
freeman's political instinct the practical bearings of his subject, and
in his broad, comprehensive survey disclosed that large American
apprehension of freedom and nationality which underlay the best thought
of his time. His pamphlet is not a piece of elegant writing, and it is
introduced by superficial theorizing; but the practical value is great.
Thoughts which have so entered into our political consciousness as to be
trite and commonplace are presented as the new possession of a young man
lately from college, and it is fair to judge of the current speculation
of his time by the results here gathered into logical order. Webster, as
I said before, may be taken in this pamphlet as an admirable example of
the American political thinker, who has worked out, under the new
conditions of this continent, ideas and principles which his ancestors
brought from England. He thinks he has invented something new, but the
worth of his thought is in its experience. In a period when every one
was engaged in rearranging the universe upon some improved plan of his
own, it is not surprising that those who thought they had a brand-new
nation on their hands should have made a serious business of
nationalizing themselves. They thought they were starting afresh from a
purely philosophical basis, and they were greatly concerned about their
premises; as a matter of fact, their premises were often highly
artificial, while their conclusions were sound, for these really drew
their life from the historic development of free institutions, and the
nation which was formally instituted had long had an organic process.
Webster himself, twenty years after, when referring to this pamphlet,
had the good sense to say, "The remarks in the first three sketches are
general, and some of them I now believe to be too visionary for
practice; but the fourth sketch was intended expressly to urge, by all
possible arguments, the necessity of a radical alteration in our system
of general government, and an outline is there suggested." He adds, "As
a private man, young and unknown, I could do but little; but that little
I did."

In the autumn of 1786 he went to Philadelphia at the invitation of
Franklin, and stayed there a year. He maintained himself in part by
teaching, being master of an Episcopal academy; but his interest
centred upon the debates of the Constitutional Convention, then in
session, and a month after it rose he published "An Examination of the
Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution," which was, in effect, a
popular defense of the work of the Convention, especially as regards the
division of the legislature into two houses. The paper shows rather zeal
and fervor than acuteness, and seems to have been hastily written to
serve some special and temporary purpose. It has a magniloquence not
elsewhere found in his writings, as when he says: "This western world
now beholds an æra important beyond conception, and which posterity will
number with the age of the Czar of Muscovy, and with the promulgation of
the Jewish laws at Mount Sinai. The names of those men who have digested
a system of constitutions for the American empire will be enrolled with
those of Zamolxis and Odin, and celebrated by posterity with the honors
which less enlightened nations have paid to the fabled demi-gods of
antiquity.... In the formation of our Constitution the wisdom of all
ages is collected; the legislators of antiquity are consulted, as well
as the opinions and interests of the millions who are concerned. In
short, it is an empire of reason." In all this there is a flurry of
enthusiasm which was not confined to Webster.

Later still, in 1793, he was placed in a more responsible position, as
editor of a new daily newspaper in New York. He had been writing under
the signature of Candor in the "Courant" upon the French Revolution,
taking a somewhat Gallican position, when he chanced to meet Genet at
dinner in New York. Conversation with that gentleman caused a change in
his views, and it was during this visit to New York that Mr. James
Watson proposed to him to establish a newspaper there in the defense of
Washington's administration. With his ardent attachment to Washington,
and his adhesion generally to the federal party, he accepted the
invitation, and established the "American Minerva," which subsequently
became the "New York Commercial Advertiser." In conducting the paper he
introduced an economical device, which was novel at the time, but has
since become an established mode with daily newspapers: he issued a
semi-weekly paper, called the "Herald," which was made up from the
columns of the daily "Minerva" without recomposition of type.

The political situation which led to the establishment of the "Minerva"
was that created by the intrigues of Citizen Genet, and by the bitter
hostility to Washington's administration on the part of the French
sympathizers. Washington had issued his proclamation of neutrality, and
the Jacobin clubs had opened upon him with their newspapers and
pamphlets and public addresses in the most virulent manner. It is
scarcely too much to say that the animosity between the French and
anti-French parties in the United States was keener--it certainly was
madder--than that which had existed between Americans and Englishmen
during the war which had so lately closed. The earlier movements of the
French Revolution had called out in America even more than in England
the liveliest expectations of a golden age. Americans, flattered by the
French alliance and by the reputation in which their young republic was
held, were intoxicated with vanity, and filled also with an eager hope
that principles of which they were standard-bearers were to be dominant
in Europe. The theoretical and _doctrinaire_ views which seemed for the
time to be justified by the success of the American people came to stand
for universal principles of reason, capable of bearing all the weight of
human experience, and of serving in the place of religion. The most
enthusiastic, beholding a new era, were only a few steps in advance of
more cautious men, and the new _régime_ in France received the sympathy
not only of Jefferson and Madison, but of Washington and Hamilton. It
was only when the flood-gates were opened that the uniform sentiment was
broken in upon, and parties were formed of "Gallo-maniacs" on one side,
as their enemies called them, and anti-Gallicans on the other. But this
split into two parties had occurred before Genet arrived, and the breach
was only widened by that head-strong minister's action. There can be
little doubt that the prudence of Washington, aided by the conservative
Hamilton and the unwilling Jefferson, saved the country at the time
from committing itself to the insanity of active coöperation with the
raging French republic.

The support of the administration was to be looked for not only in
legislatures, but in the public press, which was rapidly becoming a
power in the country. Certainly the flames of passion and prejudice were
fanned most persistently by such journalists as Freneau and Bache on one
side, and Cobbett on the other, and it was evident that the war over the
question was to be fought largely in the columns of newspapers.
Webster's federalism was staunch, so was his personal loyalty to
Washington; but I think he was asked to manage the new paper chiefly
because in his writings thus far, both upon political and general
topics, he had shown himself to have that direct and homely style which
makes itself understood by the people because it is in the dialect of
the people. At any rate, he began at once vigorously to write and print
articles bearing upon the great question of the day. He informed himself
of the historical process of the French Revolution, but whatever he
wrote was in reference to the effect upon the United States. Webster's
patriotism was the best education for a true regard of public affairs in
France. His instinct for unity, his conception of the future of the
United States, his unbounded faith in American ideas, all served to make
him fight any proposal which would complicate the United States with
foreign powers.

His hand is seen in various parts of the paper for the five years during
which he was connected with it. The French Revolution and all the
complications growing out of it were treated with steadfast reference to
the interests of the United States, and blows were dealt unceasingly
upon the democratic party, as the anti-Federalists were beginning to
call themselves. Webster digested the foreign news, wrote articles and
paragraphs, and used the machinery which belonged to a paper of that
day. It is not unlikely that he wrote letters to himself; it is certain
that he wrote a series of essays entitled "The Times," pithy, forcible
homilies and comments, expressed generally in a colloquial form, and
intended, evidently, to be driven home sharply and positively. I give an
extract from one as indicating something of the manner of these
_conciones ad populum_:--

... "Our government is a government of universal toleration. The freedom
of America, its greatest blessing, secures to every citizen the right of
thinking, of speaking, of worshiping and acting as he pleases, provided
he does not violate the laws. The only people in America who have dared
to violate this freedom are the democratical incendiaries, who have
proceeded to threaten violence to tories and aristocrats and federal
republicans; that is, to people not of their party. Every threat of this
kind is an act of tyranny; an attempt to abridge the rights of a
fellow-citizen. If a man is persecuted for his opinions, it is wholly
immaterial whether the persecution springs from one man or from a
society of the people,--when men are disposed to persecute. Power is
always right; weakness always wrong. Power is always insolent and
despotic: whether exercised in throwing its opposers into a bastile;
burning them at the stake; torturing them on a rack; beheading them with
a guillotine; or taking them off, as at the massacre of St. Bartholomew,
at a general sweep. Power is the same in Turkey as in America. When the
will of man is raised above law, it is always tyranny and despotism,
whether it is the will of a bashaw or of bastard patriots."

The articles which Webster contributed in reviewing the historical
movement of the French Revolution were worked over into a pamphlet,
which he published in 1794. There were other questions belonging to this
time which grew out of the relations between the young republic and
European nations. In running over the files of the "Minerva," one is
struck with the predominating influence of Europe in American affairs.
Every change which took place abroad was watched with reference to its
influence on home politics. The habit of regarding America as dependent
upon Europe, which underlay so much of the thought of the time, was not
easily laid aside, and the tests applied to the conduct of American
affairs were of European precedents. The secretary of state was then and
long after the leading man of the Cabinet. It is indeed only lately that
his comparative importance has been lessened, and that of the
secretaries of the treasury and of the interior increased.

Webster's pen was employed on the great questions which arose on the
rights of neutral nations, and especially on the policy contained in
Jay's Treaty. In vindication of this treaty he published a series of
papers, under the signature of Curtius, twelve in all, but the sixth and
seventh were contributed by James Kent, afterward Chancellor Kent. The
papers came out at the same time with the series signed Camillus,
written by Hamilton and King.[12] When the first number of Curtius
appeared, Jefferson wrote of it to Madison: "I send you by post one of
the pieces, Curtius, lest it should not have come to you otherwise. It
is evidently written by Hamilton, giving a first and general view of the
subject, that the public mind might be kept a little in check, till he
could resume the subject more at large from the beginning, under his
second signature, Camillus.... I gave a copy or two, by way of
experiment, to honest-hearted men of common understanding, and they
were not able to parry the sophistry of Curtius. I have ceased,
therefore, to give them. Hamilton is really a colossus to the
anti-republican party.... For God's sake, take up your pen, and give a
fundamental reply to Curtius and Camillus." But Madison did not yield to
Jefferson's entreaty. In these papers Webster reviewed the treaty
article by article, and kept closely to his text, in the last number
only enlarging upon the insidious character of much of the opposition to
the treaty, as connected with the machinations of the French party. It
was not without reason that Mr. King expressed the opinion to Mr. Jay
"that the essays of Curtius had contributed more than any other papers
of the same kind to allay the discontent and opposition to the treaty;"
assigning as a reason that they were peculiarly well adapted to the
understanding of the people at large.

Webster had the newspaper faculty, and was as omniscient as any editor
need be. A consideration of his general labors belongs elsewhere, but it
ought to be noted here that he was prompt to see the perils which
underlay American slavery. He discussed the subject, indeed, chiefly in
its industrial relations, but he regarded these as affecting parties and
national well-being. As early as 1793 he delivered an address before the
Connecticut Society for the Promotion of Freedom "On the Effects of
Slavery on Morals and Industry," and shortly afterward expanded the
address into a treatise. His work bristles with historical
illustrations, for it was the habit then more than later to draw
inferences from foreign facts; there had not yet accumulated that great
swelling volume of home testimony which made reference to experience
outside of America unnecessary and rather impertinent. His remedy for
the existing evil is the elevation of slaves to the rank of tenants, not
in a sudden emancipation, but in the gradual selection of the most
capable, and he finds his most satisfactory example in the experiment
made thirty years before by the Chancellor of Poland. The appeal is not
greatly to the conscience, but to the interest of men. He sums up the
argument at the close with the words: "The industry, the commerce, and
the moral character of the United States will be immensely benefited by
the change. Justice and Humanity require it; Christianity _commands_
it." He had not long been conducting the "Minerva" before he took up the
subject again, reminding the public of this treatise. "In that
pamphlet," he says, "I endeavored to show by arguments and facts that
the labor of slaves is less productive than that of freemen. A doctrine
of this kind, if clearly and incontrovertibly established, will perhaps
go farther in abolishing the practice of enslaving men than any
declamation on the immorality and cruelty of the practice." He then
takes up the statistics which had accumulated since the publication of
his pamphlet, showing in a forcible manner that the Northern Free States
were steadily gaining on the Southern Slave States, and carries forward
the argument with great acuteness. "What," he asks, "has produced this
difference in the productiveness of the labor in the Northern division?
Peace and good markets have been common to both divisions; and the
laboring people in the Northern States were as free before the year 1791
as since. What, then, has stimulated the industry of the free laborers
since that period? The answer is obvious. An augmentation of capital
operating upon their free labor. It is probable there has been an
augmentation of capital throughout the United States, though I am
convinced that augmentation has been much greater in the Northern than
in the Southern. But my general remark is that an increase of capital
must be felt by the laboring people themselves to produce its full
effect in stimulating industry. The benefits of capital and good markets
in the Northern States are experienced by the men who labor; in the
Southern States this is not the case among the slaves, who make a great
proportion among the laborers. It is of little consequence to a slave
whether his master employs in business ten thousand or one thousand, or
whether he gets four dollars or two for a hundred of tobacco. In both
cases he plods on at his task with the same slow, reluctant pace. A
_freeman_, on the other hand, labors with double diligence when he gets
a high price for his produce; and this I apprehend to be a principal
cause which has in the last two years occasioned such a surprising
difference of exports in favor of the Northern States."

Webster's connection with the "Minerva" continued for about five years,
when he abandoned it as unprofitable; but his industry may be inferred
from the fact that his writings upon the paper, inclusive of
translations from foreign languages, would amount to twenty octavo

His withdrawal from the conduct of a daily newspaper did not mean his
indifference to public affairs. Near the close of his stay in New York
he wrote "A Letter on the Value and Importance of the American Commerce
to Great Britain, addressed to a Gentleman of Distinction in London."
His aim was to emphasize the judgment that the commercial interests of
the two countries were closely interwoven, and that in the complication
of European politics the United States, if compelled to make any
alliance, was most naturally related to England. In 1802 he published
his laborious and learned "Essay on the Rights of Neutral Nations," in
which he took a position at variance on a single point with that which
he held when vindicating Jay's Treaty a few years before. In that treaty
Great Britain had stipulated that naval stores should be prohibited as
contraband of war, and Webster, in common with others, assumed with
reluctance that such prohibition was in accordance with the general law
of nations, although admitting that this was the most vulnerable article
of the treaty. Further investigation satisfied him of his error, and he
frankly avowed it in the later essay, where he says: "For the honor of
my country, and the essential interests of her commerce, I regret that
the administration, in the very commencement of the national government,
has consented to abandon ground which the nations of Europe had, for
more than a century, been struggling to obtain and to fortify. I have no
hesitation in declaring that no considerations of public danger can
justify a commercial nation in consenting to enlarge the field of
contraband; nor can there be an apology for the renewal of the clause in
the compact, by which our true interests and essential rights have been
surrendered." Following the maxim that "Free ships make free goods," he
establishes himself on the proposition that "neutrals have a better
right to trade than nations have to fight and plunder." Webster argued
strenuously in maintenance of rights which were in jeopardy, and the
disregard of which by Great Britain had much to do with the War of
1812-1814. He was writing at the beginning of Jefferson's first
administration, with all the distrust which the federalist party felt of
the President's foreign policy, but it cannot be said that his
examination of the subject is other than fair and impartial.

How bitterly he could write as a partisan is shown by the long "Address
to the President of the United States on the subject of his Address,"
published in 1802, and called out by Jefferson's inaugural, then six
months old. The principles laid down in that address, in the midst of
much fine rhetoric, had begun to be shown in practice, and Webster
employs argument and invective to lay bare the falseness of Jefferson's
professions. His longest and sharpest attack is upon the policy pursued
by the President in rewarding his followers with office,--a policy in
accord with the principles laid down in the inaugural. We are
accustomed nowadays to strong statements of the viciousness of the
spoils system, but no advocate of civil service reform has attacked the
full-grown system of party rewards with any more vigor than Webster
showed at the beginning of the system. "No, sir!" he exclaims
indignantly, "no individual or party has a _claim_ or _right_ to any
office whatever;" and he shows with exceeding clearness the tendency of
such a doctrine. In his subsequent occasional addresses one finds
frequently the note of alarm here struck. Webster was a fervid
Federalist, and the accession of the democratic party to power was a
shock to his confidence in the perpetuity of the Union from which he
never wholly recovered. When the election for President occurred in
1832, and it was clear that Jackson would be returned, Webster refused
to go to the polls; he sent away the carriage which came for him. Of
what use was it to vote? But the next year, when his son-in-law, Judge
Ellsworth, was a candidate for the governor's place, his faith revived a
little, and he found it possible to vote.

Webster's federalism had one significant expression in the preliminary
measures which led to the Hartford Convention. In January, 1814, Judge
Joseph Lyman, of Northampton, wrote to him at Amherst, where he was then
living, and proposed a meeting of the most discreet and intelligent
inhabitants of the county of Hampshire, for the purpose of a free and
dispassionate discussion respecting public concerns. A meeting was held
in Northampton, January 19th, at which Webster proposed that the several
towns in the vicinity should call a convention of delegates from the
legislatures of the Northern States, to agree upon and urge certain
amendments to the Constitution for the restoration of the equilibrium
between the North and the South. He and two others were appointed to
draft a circular letter, and this circular, written by Webster, was sent
out under Judge Lyman's name. In consequence of the appeal, a number of
towns sent petitions to the General Court of Massachusetts asking for
such a convention. It was not judged expedient to call one at that
session; but in October of the same year Harrison Gray Otis
reintroduced the measure, and Mr. Webster, then a member of the
legislature, supported it in a speech. The Hartford Convention thereupon
was called, and while Mr. Webster was not a member of it, he was so far
involved in its organization that he afterward published a sketch of
these earlier steps, though he did not there state in full his own
intimate connection with the movement.

Webster's federalism was something more than a partisan sentiment. In
following his political thought, it is easily perceived that his creed
of party was subordinate to his larger belief in the American Republic.
His writings upon public affairs, which are very considerable,
constantly reveal this dominant thought. The very vagaries--which, as we
have seen, and shall see again, rendered some of his ideas amusing and
vain-glorious--were but the disorderly and ill-regulated whims of a
sincere patriotism. Americanism in literature and language may become
fantastic, but in politics there is pretty sure to be room for the most
ardent love of country to expand itself without becoming a bubble, and
it is certain that Webster's political writings were marked by a
largeness of conception and a clear understanding of national lines
which redeem them from insignificance. They had their influence upon his
contemporaries, yet they were, after all, ephemeral. Had he concentrated
his powers upon political themes, it is not impossible that he should
have been a journalist, for instance, of influence and even celebrity.
But there was a weakness on this side. He did not bring to the
discussion of great public questions that weight of learning and breadth
of argument which will sustain political writings when the immediate
occasion has passed. Whether writing pamphlets or newspaper articles, he
was essentially a writer of the day, of importance in pressing home
arguments calling for immediate results, but lacking the art of
literature and the commanding thought of a statesman. He had a true
sentiment in politics, and he was able also to see practical issues
clearly; but his mind was analytical rather than constructive, and his
restlessness of life was indicative of a certain instability of temper
which kept him uneasily employed about many things rather than
steadfast and single-minded. It would be too much to say that he failed
as a political writer, and fell back on his philological and
school-master studies; yet it is very likely that, in the various
excursions which he made into politics and general literature, he
discovered by successive trials that there was one pursuit more than all
which really belonged to him, and the constancy with which he followed
it is in singular contrast with the multitudinous experiments which
seemed to occupy the period of his life between 1785 and 1802.


[10] Letter to L. Gaylord Clark, _Lippincott's Magazine_, April, 1870.

[11] _Constitutional History of the United States_, i. 63.

[12] The statement that King assisted Hamilton is made by H. C. Lodge,
in _The Life and Letters of George Cabot_, p. 84.



In one of his political papers Webster sketches the average American of
his time: "He makes a variety of utensils,--rough, indeed, but such as
will answer his purpose; he is a husbandman in summer and a mechanic in
winter; he travels about the country; he converses with a variety of
professions; he reads public papers; he has access to a parish library,
and thus becomes acquainted with history and politics, and every man in
New England is a theologian." I have already intimated that Webster
dissipated his strength, and it is only fair to state the facts in the
light of the conditions under which he lived. In the unorganized and
fluent state of society there was little room for a specialist; or, to
change the phrase for a more exact one, there was too much room. Every
educated man was called upon to occupy himself with a great variety of
tasks. The demand made by the republican experiment was very great.
People had practiced local self-government under monarchical supervision
for a long time; now they were bound to extend the sphere of their
political activity, and in the adjustment of the new machinery there was
abundant opportunity for all the ingenuity and wit of the educated class
to exercise itself. Then there was a great impetus given by politics to
the democratizing of the nation, and, in the rapid social changes of the
day, the educated class found itself well shaken up with the mechanic.
The terms which Webster employs of the average American may easily be
applied to all classes. Nice distinctions of rank and occupation could
not easily be maintained in a country where there was vastly more land
than could be tilled, where enterprise of every kind was limited only by
lack of labor, and where every citizen had his hand on the wheels of

In a conventional way Webster would be classed amongst the educated men
of the country: he had received his diploma at one of the chief
colleges; his occupations were intellectual; his profession was the
liberal one of the law. Yet in a more real way he was a farmer's son,
and though he ceased early from manual labor his mental affiliations
were with the plain people rather than with the intellectual ones. He
seized all subjects by their practical side, and his instinct was to
apply the rough-and-ready rules of common sense to all questions,
whether of politics, theology, or philology. Such men as Belknap and
Hazard looked with disdain upon him; they felt rather than said that
Webster was not one of them. So, when living in Hartford, Webster was
not identified with the circle of Hartford wits. His mind was not subtle
or graceful; he had not the faculty of creating, nor, so far as I can
discover, of appreciating literature; but he had an uncommonly active
manufacturing mind, and in his intellectual workshop he made, as he said
of his average American, "a variety of utensils,--rough, indeed, but
such as will answer his purpose."

He had much in common with Franklin, to whom he was strongly drawn. He
had Franklin's eminent common sense and homeliness, by which he gained a
hearing from plain men and women; but he had not Franklin's crystal
style, his instinct for the fewest and best words, his happy use of a
language which seemed made for his thoughts. We noticed that in the
spelling-book he displayed a fondness for the wisdom of proverbs and
familiar sayings, and among his earliest writings were a series of pithy
homilies to the people upon questions of morals and manners, published
first in the Connecticut "Courant," but early collected into a volume
entitled "The Prompter;" a little book which one may trace to a good
many different printing-offices and to various sections of the country,
certainly the most widely spread of Webster's writings, after his
text-books, and the most worthy of a repeated life. If I am not
mistaken, it is even now making its little mark on character.

The sub-title of the book is "A Commentary on Common Sayings and
Subjects, which are full of Common Sense,--the best sense in the world;"
and in the preface, explanatory of the purpose of the book, Webster's
manner as a popular writer is well shown. "A Prompter," he remarks of
the happy title, "is the man who, in plays, sits behind the scenes,
looks over the rehearser, and with a moderate voice corrects him when
wrong, or assists his recollection when he forgets the next sentence. A
Prompter, then, says but little, but that little is very necessary, and
often does much good. He helps the actors on the stage at a dead lift,
and enables them to go forward with spirit and propriety. The writer of
this little book took it into his head to prompt the numerous actors
upon the great theatre of life; and he sincerely believes that his only
motive was to do good. He cast about to find the method of writing
calculated to do the most general good. He wanted to whip vice and folly
out of the country; he thought of 'Hudibras' and 'McFingal,' and
pondered well whether he should attempt the masterly style of those
writings. He found this would not do, for, like most modern rhymers, he
is no poet, and he always makes bungling work at imitation.

"The Prompter thought of the grave diction of sober, moral writers, and
the pompous, flowing style of modern historians. Fame began now to prick
up his vanity to try an imitation of the great Dr. Robertson, Dr.
Johnson, and Mr. Gibbon, those giants of literature. He thought if he
could muster dollars enough to buy a style-mill, which those heroes of
science undoubtedly used to cut out sentences for their works, he should
succeed to a tittle. But then it occurred to him that when he had cut
and shaped his periods into exact squares, diamonds, pentagons,
parallelograms, and other mathematical figures, they might not contain
very clear, precise, definite ideas; one half of his readers would not
understand him. The style-mill, then, or, as some people contemptuously
call it, the word-mill, would not answer the Prompter's purpose of doing
as much good as possible by making men wiser and better.

"At length he determined to have nothing to do with a brilliant flow of
words, a pompous elegance of diction; for what has the world to do with
the sound of words? The Prompter's business is with the world at large,
and the mass of mankind are concerned only with common things. A dish of
high-seasoned turtle is rarely found; it sometimes occurs at a
gentleman's table, and then the chance is it produces a surfeit. But
good solid roast beef is a common dish for all men; it sits easy on the
stomach, it supports, it strengthens and invigorates. Vulgar sayings and
proverbs, so much despised by the literary epicures, the Chesterfields
of the age, are the roast beef of science. They contain the experience,
the wisdom, of nations and ages compressed into the compass of a
nutshell. To crack the shell and extract the contents to feed those who
have appetites is the aim of this little book."

The several essays are expansive of the familiar sayings or proverbs
which stand for their titles, as, "It will do for the present," "I told
you so," "He is sowing his wild oats," "He would have his own way," "A
stitch in time saves nine," "Any other time will do as well," "He has
come out at the little end of the horn." The papers are all short, and
no time is wasted in coming at the point; indeed, there is a succession
of thrusts in each paper, and the reader is prodded more or less
efficiently at each step. Here, to give a single example, is Number
XVIII.: "What is everybody's business is nobody's."

"The consequence is that everybody and nobody are just the same
thing,--a truth most pointedly exemplified in the kitchen of a Southern
nabob. 'Phil!' says the mistress, with the air of an empress. Phil
appears. 'Go tell Peg to tell Sue to come along here and pick up a
needle.' 'Yes, ma'am,' answers Phil, and waddles back like a duck. 'Peg,
mistress says you must tell Sue to go to her and pick up a needle.' Peg
carries the message to Sue, but Sue is busy cleaning a candlestick.
'Well,' says Sue, 'I will go as soon as I have done.' The mistress wants
the needle; she waits ten or fifteen minutes, grows impatient. 'Phil,
did you tell Peg what I told you?' 'Ye--s, ma'am,' says Phil, drawling
out her answer. 'Well, why don't the jade do what I told her? Peg, come
here, you hussy! Did you tell Sue what Phil told you?' 'Yes, ma'am.'
'Well, why don't the lazy trollop come along? Here I am waiting for the
needle! Tell the jade to come instantly!'

"Risum teneatis? Hold, my readers don't know Latin; but can you help
laughing, my friends? Laugh, then, at the Southern nabob, with twenty
fat slaves in his kitchen,--laugh well at him, for there is cause
enough; then come _home_ and laugh.

"You want a good school, perhaps, and so do your neighbors. But whose
business is it to find a teacher, a house, etc.? 'John, I wish you would
speak to William to ask Joseph to desire our friend Daniel to set about
getting a good school. We want one very much; it is a shame to us to be
so negligent.' This is the last we hear of the good school. _What is
everybody's business is nobody's._

"You want to collect the public taxes into the treasury of the State.
The towns choose constables or collectors of taxes. No security is taken
for a faithful discharge of the trust, but a law is passed, which says,
like the mistress to her wenches, Treasurer, do you tell the constable
to collect and pay over the taxes. The collector, like the nabob's
slave, has no motive for diligence; he gets not half enough for
collecting to pay for his horse-flesh. He lounges about a year or two,
squanders away the money, and where is his bondsman? The town! Right,
the town is his bondsman. The law says, Treasurer, do you issue your
execution against the sheriff, and command him to levy upon the
constable, who is not worth a farthing; get a return of _non est
inventus_; then levy upon his bondsman, the town; take the estate of
everybody, post it for sale, get it receipted and not delivered; sue the
receipts-man, get the money, make the town pay it twice,--27,000l. in
arrears! It is a shame! Oh, such a bustle with Mr. Everybody, and all to
pick up a needle! The State is like the nabob's family. 'Phil, tell Peg
to tell Sue to pick up the needle.'

"Now in fact it is a very easy thing to pick up a needle, but if one
cannot stoop to pick it up another ought to be paid for it. One servant
who is paid for his work will pick up more needles than twenty fat,
lounging slaves that think it a drudgery and get nothing for it.

"It would be a good thing for a State to know that _everybody's business
is nobody's_. Every man in Connecticut is responsible for a faithful
collection of public money; then it is nobody's business. The Prompter
never saw a watch with two mainsprings, much less with two hundred. One
spring is enough, and that government, the executive of which depends
on many springs, will jar, clash, stop, and be always out of
order,--27,000l. in arrears.

"Appoint one collector, the treasurer; make him answerable for the
collection of the whole state revenue. Let him appoint his deputies; let
them be few, but let them be paid. All the difficulty will vanish; one
spring will move the whole; the state treasury, like the federal, will
be supplied; no arrears then, no levying executions on towns."

       *       *       *       *       *

This happens to have its application to public affairs; most of the
twenty-eight papers have their special point in personal character. The
writing is not elegant; it is sometimes ungrammatical; but it is
intelligible, and with its bluntness could hardly fail to make itself
felt. It is when one compares it with similar work of Franklin's, as
"The Whistle," for example, that one is reminded of its inartistic form.
But Webster was always busy over subjects directly connected with the
well-being of the people. His philological work had its origin in this
motive, and in his miscellaneous writings he displayed his practical
philosophy and philanthropy. He wrote frequently upon banks and
banking; his "Epidemic and Pestilential Diseases" is pronounced by an
authority to have great historical value; he was one of the founders of
the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences; and in the numerous list
of his writings one comes upon such oddly assorted subjects as an
account of a tornado in Wethersfield, a cure for cancer, upon
white-washing, the mental arithmetic of a negro, on winds, upon female
education, on the decomposition of white-lead paint, a dissertation on
the supposed change in the temperature of winter, upon names of streets
in New York, on yellow fever, on the age of literary men, and one
article with the suggestive title "Number of Deaths in the Episcopal
Church in New York in each Month for Ten Years." He had a passion for
statistics which took an odd turn. In his diary one constantly finds an
enumeration of the houses in the town which he happens to be visiting.
"During his brief residence in New York," says one biographical sketch,
"Mr. Webster numbered the houses in the city, and found that they were
thirty-five hundred." He would count up one side of a street and down
the other, and place the results in his note-book. I think he published
in some paper the record of this individual census as applied to a
number of houses and villages. There must have been in his constitution
an inordinate love of detail, intensified, perhaps, by much
contemplation of those battalions of words which make his spelling-book
pages look like spiritual armies marching against ignorance.

We have already observed Webster's interest in political discussion, and
have tried to disclose something of his temper when viewing questions of
public policy. "The Prompter" was written with reference to the conduct
of life in individuals, but, as in the paper copied above, there is
constant regard to the American character, and to the manner in which
one should conduct himself in the new conditions of American life. The
general subject of Americanism was one upon which he was constantly
writing. We shall see later the length to which he carried his views in
relation to the American language; here we may note some of the
directions which his thought took when dealing with what may be called
the greater morals of national life. In his "Remarks on the Manners,
Government, and Debt of the United States," an odd combination of
subjects, apparently, but very closely connected in Webster's mind, he
undertakes to discover the cause of some of the political evils of the
day, and is led by his subject into regions lying outside of politics.

"A fundamental mistake of the Americans has been that they considered
the revolution as completed, when it was but just begun. Having raised
the pillars of the building, they ceased to exert themselves, and seemed
to forget that the whole super-structure was then to be erected. This
country is independent in government, but totally dependent in manners,
which are the basis of government. Men seem not to attend to the
difference between Europe and America in point of age and improvement,
and are disposed to rush with heedless emulation into an imitation of
manners for which we are not prepared....

"The present ambition of Americans is to introduce as fast as possible
the fashionable amusements of the European courts. Considering the
former dependence of America on England, her descent, her connection and
present intercourse, this ambition cannot surprise us. But it must check
this ambition to reflect on the consequences. It will not be denied that
there are vices predominant in the most polite cities in Europe which
are not only unknown, but are seldom mentioned, in America, and vices
that are infamous beyond conception. I presume it will not be denied
that there must be an amazing depravation of mind in a nation where a
farce is a publication of more consequence than Milton's poem, and where
an opera dancer, or an Italian singer, receives a salary equal to that
of an ambassador. The facts being known and acknowledged, I presume the
consequence will not be denied. Not that the charge is good against
every individual; even in the worst times there will be found many
exceptions to the general character of a nation....

"In some Asiatic countries people never change their mode of dress. This
uniformity, which continues for ages, proceeds from the same principles
as the monthly changes in England and France; both proceed from
necessity and policy. Both arise from good causes which operate in the
several governments; that is, the manners of each government are
subservient to its particular interest. The reverse is true of this
country. Our manners are wholly subservient to the interest of foreign
nations. Where do we find, in dress or equipage, the least reference to
the circumstances of this country? Is it not the sole ambition of the
Americans to be just like other nations, without the means of supporting
the resemblance? We ought not to harbor any spleen or prejudice against
foreign kingdoms. This would be illiberal. They are wise, they are
respectable. We should despise the man that piques himself on his own
country, and treats all others with indiscriminate contempt. I wish to
see much less jealousy and ill-nature subsisting between the Americans
and English. But in avoiding party spirit and resentment on the one
hand, we should be very careful of servility on the other. There is a
manly pride in true independence which is equally remote from insolence
and meanness,--a pride that is characteristic of great minds. Have
Americans discovered this pride since the declaration of peace? We
boast of independence, and with propriety. But will not the same men who
glory in this great event, even in the midst of a gasconade, turn to a
foreigner, and ask him, 'What is the latest fashion in Europe?' He has
worn an elegant suit of clothes for six weeks; he might wear it a few
weeks longer, but it has not so many buttons as the last suit of my Lord
----. He throws it aside, and gets one that has. The suit costs him a
sum of money; but it keeps him in the fashion, and feeds the poor of
Great Britain or France. It is a singular phenomenon, and to posterity
it will appear incredible, that a nation of heroes, who have conquered
armies and raised an empire, should not have the spirit to say, _We will
wear our clothes as we please_.

"Let it not be thought that this is a trifling subject, a matter of no
consequence. Mankind are governed by opinion; and while we flatter
ourselves that we enjoy independence because no foreign power can impose
laws upon us, we are groaning beneath the tyranny of opinion,--a tyranny
more severe than the laws of monarchs; a dominion, voluntary, indeed,
but, for that reason, more effectual; an authority of manners, which
commands our services, and sweeps away the fruits of our labor.

"I repeat the sentiment with which I began,--the Revolution of America
is yet incomplete. We are now in a situation to answer all the purposes
of the European nations,--independent in government, and dependent in
manners. They give us their fashions; they direct our taste to make a
market for their commodities; they engross the profits of our industry,
without the hazard of defending us, or the expense of supporting our
civil government. A situation more favorable to their interest or more
repugnant to our own they could not have chosen for us, nor we

       *       *       *       *       *

"Every man in New England is a theologian," says Webster in the passage
quoted at the head of this chapter, and Webster himself was no exception
to his statement. He published in "The Panoplist," and afterward in
pamphlet form, "The Peculiar Doctrines of the Gospel Explained and
Defended," an apology for Calvinism, which drew out an answer by "An
Old-fashioned Churchman." With more direct reference to his special
pursuits, he published "Mistakes and Corrections in the Common Version
of the Scriptures, in the Hebrew Lexicon of Gesenius, and in
Richardson's Dictionary."

The most considerable venture which Webster made in this field was in
his edition of the Bible. He was a Revision Committee of one, and went
to work with his customary self-confidence not to retranslate the Bible,
but to correct and improve its English, "with amendments of the
language," the title-page declares. His reasons for undertaking the work
and his principles of revision are given in the preface to his edition,
which was published at New Haven in 1833:--

... "In the present [King James] version, the language is, in general,
correct and perspicuous; the genuine popular English of Saxon origin;
peculiarly adapted to the subjects; and in many passages uniting
sublimity with beautiful simplicity. In my view, the general style of
the version ought not to be altered. But in the lapse of two or three
centuries changes have taken place, which in particular passages impair
the beauty, in others obscure the sense, of the original languages. Some
words have fallen into disuse; and the signification of others, in
current popular use, is not the same now as it was when they were
introduced into the version. The effect of these changes is that some
words are not understood by common readers, who have no access to
commentaries, and who will always compose a great proportion of readers;
while other words, being now used in a sense different from that which
they had when the translation was made, present a wrong signification or
false ideas. Whenever words are understood in a sense different from
that which they had when introduced, and different from that of the
original languages, they do not present to the reader the Word of God.
This circumstance is very important, even in things not the most
essential; and in essential points mistakes may be very injurious. In my
own view of this subject, a version of the Scriptures for popular use
should consist of words expressing the sense which is most common in
popular usage, so that the first ideas suggested to the reader should be
the true meaning of such words according to the original languages. That
many words in the present version fail to do this is certain. My
principal aim is to remedy this evil....

"In performing this task I have been careful to avoid unnecessary
innovations, and to retain the general character of the style. The
principal alterations are comprised in three classes:--

"1. The substitution of words and phrases now in good use for such as
are wholly obsolete, or deemed below the dignity and solemnity of the

"2. The correction of errors in grammar.

"3. The insertion of euphemisms, words and phrases which are not very
offensive to delicacy, in the place of such as cannot, with propriety,
be uttered before a promiscuous audience."

All this has a most familiar sound to-day, and when Webster goes on with
a plea for consideration and a doubt as to how his necessary work will
be received, we seem to hear again the apologies and defenses with
which the press has of late been filled. People have used the Bible so
long, Webster observes, that they have acquired a predilection for its
quaintnesses. "It may require," he continues, "some effort to subdue
this predilection; but it may be done, and for the sake of the rising
generation it is desirable.... As there are diversities of tastes among
men, it is not to be expected that the alterations I have made in the
language of the version will please all classes of readers. Some persons
will think I have done too little; others, too much. And probably the
result would be the same, were a revision to be executed by any other
hand, or even by the joint labors of many hands. All I can say is that I
have executed this work in the manner which, in my judgment, appeared to
be the best.... In this undertaking I subject myself to the charge of
arrogance; but I am not conscious of being actuated by any improper
motive. I am aware of the sensitiveness of the religious public on this
subject, and of the difficulties which attend the performance. But all
men whom I have consulted, if they have thought much on the subject,
seem to be agreed in the opinion that it is high time to have a
revision of the common version of the Scriptures; although no person
appears to know how or by whom such a revision is to be executed. In my
own view, such revision is not merely a matter of expedience, but of
moral duty; and as I have been encouraged to undertake this work by
respectable literary and religious characters, I have ventured to
attempt a revision upon my own responsibility. If the work should fail
to be well received, the loss will be my own, and I hope no injury will
be done. I have been painfully solicitous that no error should escape

It is not difficult to understand Webster's attitude. He is a
school-master in this business, squaring Elizabethan English to suit the
regularity and uniformity of language which have been the dream of all
school-masters. Rules without exceptions represent the unattainable
ideal of mechanical minds. Webster, vainly endeavoring to reduce
language to an orderly system, was also moved to secure propriety and
decorum. He seems, therefore, to have gone through the book with his
pen, transposing words into a more formal order, removing quaintnesses,
changing old forms into current ones, putting on fig leaves, and, so far
as he dared, shaving the language to fit the measure of the speech of
his day. But he did not undertake the work as a scholar, aiming at a
more exact version, and his emendations, where the sense would be at all
affected, were very inconsiderable. He changed, to be sure, _take no
thought_ into _be not anxious_, as the Revisers have done, and he
incorporated into the text the marginal reading _to them_ for _by them_
in the passage, _Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old
times._ He substituted _demons_ for _devils_, as the American Committee
preferred; he tried to put _hell_ in its proper place, and in some
trivial instances he was more exact in his use of prepositions, but one
would look in vain for any sign of Hebrew or Greek scholarship beyond
the most rudimentary.

Nor in respect of English did he seem to have any conception of style or
color; he patched clauses with words of his time, when he desired to
remove an obsolete expression, without any sense, apparently, of
incongruousness, and he removed words which were still perfectly clear
in meaning, only because they would not in his day so be used. He was
very much disturbed by what he regarded as inelegance, and picturesque
phrases or words were likely to give way to more commonplace ones. He
did not like _gather together_ and substituted the more rotund
_assemble_, _collect_, or _convene_; _three score_ he wrote _sixty_; he
hustled out the strong phrase _gave up the ghost_, and put in its place
the "elegant" _expire_; _peradventure_ yielded to _perhaps_ or _it may
be; laugh to scorn_ he wrote _deride_. A good example of his
indifference to racy English is in his substituting _in health_ for
_safe and sound_ in the clause, _because he hath received him safe and
sound_. "This is another instance," he writes in his Introduction, "in
which the translators have followed popular use instead of the original
Greek, which signifies simply _well_ or _in health_."

Some of his alterations were in the direction of greater
intelligibility. He used _button_ instead of _tache_, _capital_ for
_chapiter_, and made Hebrew proper names in the New Testament conform to
the usage of the Old. "This will prevent illiterate persons, who
compose a large part of the readers of the Scriptures, from mistaking
the characters. Every obstacle to a right understanding of the
Scriptures, however small, should be removed, when it can be done in
consistency with truth." Like the American Committee he preferred _Holy
Spirit to Holy Ghost_, and was willing to drop the title _Saint_ from
the names of the evangelists, and having all the authority necessary he
made these changes. In other instances there appears an interesting
agreement between this independent American reviser of 1833 and the
American Committee of the present year; number VII. of the classes of
passages recorded at the close of the Revised version, as preferred by
the American Committee, reads: "Substitute modern forms of speech for
the following archaisms, namely, _who_ or _that_ for _which_ when used
of persons; _are_ for _be_ in the present indicative; _know_, _knew_,
for _wot_, _wist_; _drag_ or _drag away_ for _hale_," and Webster's
corrections upon the same plan are uniform. It is unquestionably due to
Webster that the American Committee had this preference, not to the
Webster who revised the Bible, for it is scarcely likely that his
revision was used for reference, but to the Webster who early proposed
such changes in the use of language and never ceased to urge them upon
every occasion. So, too, both agree in dropping _thy way_ from the
phrase _go thy way_; in saying _urgent_ for _instant_. The variations,
however, of the American Committee from the English have reference
largely to readings.

The great bulk of Webster's emendations were of the most trivial and
innocent character. _Whosoever_ and _whatsoever_ he always cut down by
the omission of the second syllable; _unto_ and _until_ he changed to
_to_ and _till_; _wherein_ and its fellows he usually rendered by _in
which_, _on which_, _in that_ or _this_; _ate_ he preferred to _did
eat_, and _yes_ to _yea_. It was in general a picayune revision,
sufficient to annoy those who had an ear for the old version, and really
offering only such positive helps in interpretation as were generally in
the possession of fairly educated men. That he should have done the work
at all and have done it so faintly is what surprises the reader. As a
commercial undertaking it was no mean matter, and it was followed by
the publication of an edition of the New Testament alone. What a strange
miscalculation of forces it appears to have been! It implied that
readers generally were as much martinets in language as the editor, and
it did not take into account the immense inertia to be overcome, when a
single man should undertake to set aside the accumulated reverence of
two centuries. The revision of the Bible by Webster was in singular
confirmation of traits of character which have already been noted. He
had unlimited confidence in himself, an almost childish ignorance of
obstacles, a persistence which was unembarrassed by the indifference of
others, and, from his long continued occupation, a habit of magnifying
the trivial. He had not, in such a work as this, the qualifications of a
scholar; he had simply the training of a school-master; he was ignorant
of what he was undertaking, and his independent revision of the Bible
failed to win attention, not because it was audacious, but because it
was not bold enough; it offered no real contribution to Biblical

He secured for it, indeed, a certain endorsement. A testimonial, signed
by the president and the most distinguished members of the faculty of
Yale College, recites cautiously: "Dr. Webster's edition of the Bible,
in which the language of the translation is purified from obsolete,
ungrammatical, and exceptional words and phrases, is approved and used
by many clergymen and other gentlemen very competent to judge of its
merits," an ingenious form of words which, I hope, satisfied Dr.
Webster. Others, chiefly his neighbors in New Haven, signed more
elaborate documents, intended, apparently, to meet objections and
prejudices against a changed Bible. Webster himself declared to the
editors of a religious paper, whom he suspected to be unfriendly to his
design, "I consider this emendation of the common version as the most
important enterprise of my life, and as important as any benevolent
design now on foot; and I feel much hurt that my friends should
discountenance the design." This was written a few months after the
publication of the work. Eight years later, when he was in the
eighty-fourth year of his age, he still clung to the hope that his work
might be accepted and put to general use; he had already in his will
bequeathed to each of his grandchildren a copy of the book "handsomely
bound," the only one of his publications thus marked by his favor, and
the letter which at this time, a year before his death, he addressed to
the Members of the Eastern Association, in New Haven County, shows no
abatement in his faith.

"NEW HAVEN, _May 19, 1842_.

"GENTLEMEN: My edition of the Bible, with emendations of the language of
the common version, has been before the public about eight years. I have
heard no objection to the manner in which the work has been executed,
and, as far as my information extends, the work is generally approved by
those who have examined it, among whom are many clergymen, whose special
duty it is to guard the sacred text from corruption. The body of the
language in the common version was introduced by Tyndale more than three
hundred and twenty years ago. In the great length of time that has since
elapsed, the language has suffered many material changes, some of which
affect the sense of passages, rendering it obscure or unintelligible to
the unlettered part of readers. Some passages are perverted by the use
of wrong words, the grammatical errors are numerous, and many passages
are expressed in language which decency forbids to be repeated in
families and the pulpit. For these reasons it appears to me that a due
regard to the interest of religion requires a revision of the common
version. Indeed, all men seem to agree that amendments are wanted, but
who shall undertake the work? So numerous are the denominations of
Christians that no one would undertake it without the concurrence of
others, unless for sectarian purposes, and there is no probability that
a concurrence of all could be obtained. For these reasons it seems to be
obvious, that if any improvement is to be made in the version, the work
must be done by an individual. It is my desire that the association
shall take into consideration the propriety of rendering me their active
aid in prompting the use of the amended copy of the Bible in families
and schools. I am, gentlemen, with much respect, your obedient servant,


His judgment has been partially confirmed, partially set aside. One
denomination did undertake a revision and failed; but contrary to
Webster's belief it has been found possible to obtain the concurrence of
different bodies of men for a revision which comes with weight, and
receives an attention not to be secured by testimonials of county
associations. There was a wide difference between Webster's conception
of a revision and that entertained by the distinguished scholars who
carried forward the recent one. I wonder if one of those scholars who
signed the non-committal endorsement of Webster's Bible may not, in the
midst of his recent labors, have contrasted in his mind the learned
company to which he belonged with the school-master who offered a Bible
"purified from the numerous errors."



It is not an uncommon experience by which a young man strikes at once
the note of his career, then appears to wander or experiment, and
returns more surely to his original expression, following that steadily
to the end. It was thus with Webster. His "Grammatical Institute,"
inclosing the perennial speller, was his first declaration; then he made
ventures in different directions, but returned to studies in language,
and finally embodied the results of his life-time in his great
Dictionary. In reading biography, we wish to get at the ruling passion
of the man; how often the man himself seems bewildered in his search for
it, groping in this direction and in that, uncertain, to use Dr.
Bushnell's vigorous phrase, if he has yet grasped the handle of his
being. It cannot be said that Webster ever laid aside his special
studies and resumed them after long intervals. His earliest and most
characteristic work, "A Grammatical Institute," was always by him, and
the Speller, which emerged from it, became of so much pecuniary
importance that it could not fail to determine in many ways his
occupation. The "Minerva" from the first had constant advertisements
both of "A Grammatical Institute" and of the early volume of
"Dissertations"; there were frequent announcements of new editions of
the Spelling-Book, and of the rate at which it could be had in
quantities. Country merchants began to lay in supplies of Webster's
Spelling-Book, when they came to the nearest trading town, as
confidently as they bought West India goods or English tools. Webster
gave lectures, as he traveled north and south, upon the English
language. His reputation was forming upon this line, and it is not
unlikely that his partial failure in political and journalistic work was
due to his identification with the occupation of a school-master. A more
complete account would be that he did not do these things thoroughly
well, because his strongest attraction was in another direction. He
seems, through the twenty years or more which followed the first
publication of his Spelling-Book, to have his hand close by the
throttle-lever without knowing it. The practical demands of self-support
no doubt controlled his inclinations, and forced him into one situation
after another where his choice would not send him, and he spent these
years in a struggle for maintenance. Then he was an impulsive, a
generous, and an ambitious man. He loved society; he liked the stir of
men and the bustle of management. As we have already seen, he was ready
to venture all he had upon the stakes which his ardor set up. He took
risks in publishing, which could be justified only by his own
enthusiasm, and entertained himself with speculations in literature
which were agreeable to contemplate, but often disastrous to realize.
There is a half-despairing letter to Josiah Quincy[13] which discloses
the hard lines of his practical life. Trumbull had jested at Webster's
slight capital for house-keeping, and Webster himself reached points in
his career where even Institutes and Dissertations seemed to fail him.
The letter is dated at New Haven, February 12, 1811. He writes with
some irritation, "My name has been so much bandied about that I am quite
willing it should be seen and heard no more at present," and then passes
to the more important matters in his mind: "I am engaged in a work which
gives me great pleasure, and the tracing of language through more than
twenty different dialects has opened a new and before unexplored field.
I have within two years past made discoveries which, if ever published,
must interest the literati of all Europe, and render it necessary to
revise all the lexicons--Hebrew, Greek, and Latin--now used as classical
books. But what can I do? My own resources are almost exhausted, and in
a few days I shall sell my house to get bread for my children. All the
assurances of aid which I had received in Boston, New York, etc., have
failed, and I am soon to retire to a humble cottage in the country. To
add to my perplexity, the political measures pursuing render it almost
impossible to sell property, or to obtain money upon the best security.
A few thousand dollars, for which I can give security, would place me in
a condition in the country to live with comfort and pursue my studies;
but even this cannot be obtained till the measures of Congress assume a
more auspicious aspect. Adieu, dear sir. The little Band will no doubt
do their duty, but what can be done against the army of slaves?
Alexander Wolcott!! We must drink the cup of disgrace to the dregs!
Yours, in low spirits,


If the letter was an indirect appeal to Mr. Quincy to advance a few
thousand dollars on good security, it does not seem to have effected its
purpose, and a man with money to lend would not have his confidence in
the borrower's capacity to repay it increased by knowing that the time
of the loan was to be occupied in making astonishing discoveries in the
roots of language. It has often been stated that Dr. Webster supported
himself and large family, during the twenty or thirty years he was
employed in the preparation of his great Dictionary, mainly by a
copyright of one cent or less on his Spelling-Book, and it is quite
certain that the several other enterprises in which he engaged never
supported him while they were going on, and often resulted in losses.
But what a picture the letter presents of an impecunious scholar,
bewitched by his pursuit, and sure that it was to end in some vast
result! He writes like an inventor who needs but little to enable him to
perfect a machine which is to revolutionize labor.

It was only a few years after the first publication of the
Spelling-Book, and while Webster was still unmarried and trying his hand
at various occupations, that he published "A Collection of Essays and
Fugitiv Writings on Moral, Historical, Political, and Literary
Subjects." The short-tailed word on the title-page is an oddity intended
probably to attract the reader's attention and lead him to look within.
The contents embrace thirty essays, originally written or published
between the years 1787 and 1790, but before the reader comes upon the
table of contents he is likely to stop at the Preface with its antics of
spelling. We are tolerably used by this time to reformed spelling, but
Webster was a pioneer, and his contemporaries must have looked with some
amazement at what they could only think of as deformed spelling. Here
they could be told soberly:--

"During the course of ten or twelv yeers I hav been laboring to correct
popular errors, and to assist my yung brethren in the road to truth and
virtue; my publications for theez purposes hav been numerous; much time
haz been spent, which I do not regret, and much censure incurred, which
my hart tells me I do not dezerv. The influence of a yung writer cannot
be so powerful or extensiv az that of an established karacter; but I hav
ever thot a man's usefulness depends more on exertion than on talents. I
am attached to America by berth, education, and habit; but abuv all, by
a philosophical view of her situation, and the superior advantages she
enjoys, for augmenting the sum of social happiness....

"The reeder will obzerv that the orthography of the volum iz not
uniform. The reezon iz, that many of the essays hav been published
before, in the common orthography, and it would hav been a laborious
task to copy the whole, for the sake of changing the spelling.

"In the essays ritten within the last yeer, a considerable change of
spelling iz introduced by way of experiment. This liberty waz taken by
the writers before the age of Queen Elizabeth, and to this we are
indeted for the preference of modern spelling over that of Gower and
Chaucer. The man who admits that the change of _housbonde_, _mynde_,
_ygone_, _moneth_ into husband, mind, gone, month, iz an improovment,
must acknowledge also the riting of helth, breth, rong, tung, munth, to
be an improovment. There iz no alternativ. Every possible reezon that
could ever be offered for altering the spelling of wurds, stil exists in
full force; and if a gradual reform should not be made in our language,
it will proov that we are less under the influence of reezon than our

This passage from the Preface, as well as those papers in the volume
which follow the same style of orthography or rather cacography, will
illustrate well enough the unprincipled character of the reform as it
lay in Webster's mind. He acted upon the merest empiricism apparently,
without any well-considered plan, making the spelling occasionally
conform to the sound, but allowing even the same sounds to have
different representation in different words. Indeed, in the extract
given above, he appears to be rather a timid reformer, attacking such
defenseless little words as _is_, and respectfully passing by _would_
and _offered_. The general appearance of those essays in the volume
which are printed after Webster's own heart leads one happening upon
them nowadays into some disappointment, since they are by no means to be
ranked with the humorous writings of later mis-spellers, who have
contrived to get some fun out of venerable words by pulling off their
wigs and false teeth and turning them loose in the streets.

It is very likely that Webster's first impulse to reform our spelling
was given by Dr. Franklin's writings on the subject. As is well known,
that philosopher went so far as to devise new characters for compound
letters such as _th_, _sh_, _ng_, anticipating many of the later
experiment in phonic writing. Webster entered with zeal into the notion,
and held a correspondence with Franklin, in which the young man showed
himself so ardent a disciple of the old as to win for himself a certain
place as the doctor's residuary legatee in ideas. "This indefatigable
gentleman," says Webster of Franklin, "amidst all his other employments,
public and private, has compiled a Dictionary on his scheme of a reform,
and procured types to be cast for printing it. He thinks himself too old
to pursue the plan; but has honored me with the offer of the manuscript
and types, and expressed a strong desire that I should undertake the
task. Whether this project, so deeply interesting to this country, will
ever be effected, or whether it will be defeated by indolence and
prejudice, remains for my countrymen to determine." The last clause,
with all its obscurity, may be taken as a threat rather than as a
self-reproach. The entire correspondence between Webster and Franklin is
interesting as setting forth a certain excess of experimenting ardor in
Franklin and an unlooked-for degree of conservatism in Webster. Franklin
was the older man, but he was the more daring. One should credit him,
however, with a certain amount of humor in his whims. He played with
the English language, somewhat as he amused himself with conferring
legacies at compound interest, to take effect in two hundred years, and
giving away gravely millions of money by the immediate planting of a few

If the first impulse came from Franklin, the controlling reason must be
looked for in Webster's patriotism. It was no trifling desire to put
into practice an engaging theory, but a conviction of public gain which
moved Webster to proclaim his reform. He has left abundant testimony to
this effect. After giving a brief historical sketch of the changes to
which the English language had been subjected, in the Appendix to his
"Dissertations," he proceeds:--

"The question now occurs: ought the Americans to retain these faults
which produce innumerable inconveniences in the acquisition and use of
the language, or ought they at once to reform these abuses, and
introduce order and regularity into the orthography of the AMERICAN
TONGUE?" He throws all the emphasis possible upon these words by the use
of large type, and then sketches the nature of the proposed reform,
returning in the conclusion to his favorite position of the influence
upon national speech and manners.

The whole statement is so interesting, especially when taken into
comparison with the recent declarations of war by eminent American
philologists, that I transfer it to these pages.

"Several attempts were formerly made in England to rectify the
orthography of the language.[14] But I apprehend their schemes failed of
success rather on account of their intrinsic difficulties than on
account of any necessary impracticability of a reform. It was proposed,
in most of these schemes, not merely to throw out superfluous and silent
letters, but to introduce a number of new characters. Any attempt on
such a plan must undoubtedly prove unsuccessful. It is not to be
expected that an orthography, perfectly regular and simple, such as
would be formed by a 'Synod of Grammarians on principles of science,'
will ever be substituted for that confused mode of spelling which is now
established. But it is apprehended that great improvements may be made,
and an orthography almost regular, or such as shall obviate most of the
present difficulties which occur in learning our language, may be
introduced and established with little trouble and opposition. The
principal alterations necessary to render our orthography regular and
easy are these:

"1. The omission of all superfluous or silent letters; as _a_ in
_bread_. Thus _bread_, _head_, _give_, _breast_, _built_, _meant_,
_realm_, _friend_, would be spelt _bred_, _hed_, _giv_, _brest_, _bilt_,
_ment_, _relm_, _frend_. Would this alteration produce any
inconvenience, any embarrassment or expense? By no means. On the other
hand, it would lessen the trouble of writing, and, much more, of
learning the language; it would reduce the true pronunciation to a
certainty; and while it would assist foreigners and our own children in
acquiring the language, it would render the pronunciation uniform in
different parts of the country, and almost prevent the possibility of

"2. A substitution of a character that has a certain definite sound for
one that is more vague and indeterminate. Thus by putting _ee_ instead
of _ea_ or _ie_, the words _mean_, _near_, _speak_, _grieve_, _zeal_,
would become _meen_, _neer_, _speek_, _greev_, _zeel_. This alteration
could not occasion a moment's trouble; at the same time it would prevent
a doubt respecting the pronunciation; whereas the _ea_ and _ie_, having
different sounds, may give a learner much difficulty. Thus _greef_
should be substituted for _grief_; _kee_ for _key_; _beleev_ for
_believe_; _laf_ for _laugh_; _dawter_ for _daughter_; _plow_ for
_plough_; _tuf_ for _tough_; _proov_ for _prove_; _blud_ for _blood_;
and _draft_ for _draught_. In this manner ch in Greek derivatives should
be changed into _k_; for the English _ch_ has a soft sound as in
_cherish_; but _k_ always a hard sound. Therefore _character_, _chorus_,
_colic_, _architecture_, should be written _karacter_, _korus_, _kolic_,
_arkitecture_, and were they thus written no person could mistake their
true pronunciation. Thus _ch_ in French derivatives should be changed
into _sh_; _machine_, _chaise_, _chevalier_, should be written
_masheen_, _shaze_, _shevaleer_, and _pique_, _tour_, _oblique_, should
be written _peek_, _toor_, _obleek_.

"3. A trifling alteration in a character, or the addition of a point,
would distinguish different sounds without the substitution of a new
character. Thus a very small stroke across _th_ would distinguish its
two sounds. A point over a vowel in this manner, _ȧ_ or _ȯ_ or _ī_,
might answer all the purposes of different letters. And for the
diphthong _ow_ let the two letters be united by a small stroke, or both
engraven on the same piece of metal, with the left hand line of the _w_
united to the _o_. These, with a few other inconsiderable alterations,
would answer every purpose, and render the orthography sufficiently
correct and regular.

"The advantages to be derived from these alterations are numerous,
great, and permanent.

"1. The simplicity of the orthography would facilitate the learning of
the language. It is now the work of years for children to learn to
spell; and after all, the business is rarely accomplished. A few men,
who are bred to some business that requires constant exercise in
writing, finally learn to spell most words without hesitation; but most
people remain all their lives imperfect masters of spelling, and liable
to make mistakes whenever they take up a pen to write a short note. Nay,
many people, even of education and fashion, never attempt to write a
letter without frequently consulting a dictionary. But with the proposed
orthography, a child would learn to spell, without trouble, in a very
short time, and the orthography being very regular, he would ever after
find it difficult to make a mistake. It would, in that case, be as
difficult to spell _wrong_ as it is now to spell _right_. Besides this
advantage, foreigners would be able to acquire the pronunciation of
English, which is now so difficult and embarrassing that they are either
wholly discouraged on the first attempt, or obliged, after many years'
labor, to rest contented with an imperfect knowledge of the subject.

"2. A correct orthography would render the pronunciation of the language
as uniform as the spelling in books. A general uniformity thro the
United States would be the event of such a reformation as I am here
recommending. All persons, of every rank, would speak with some degree
of precision and uniformity. Such a uniformity in these States is very
desirable; it would remove prejudice, and conciliate mutual affection
and respect.

"3. Such a reform would diminish the number of letters about one
sixteenth or eighteenth. This would save a page in eighteen; and a
saving of an eighteenth in the expense of books is an advantage that
should not be overlooked.

"4. But a capital advantage of this reform in these States would be,
that it would make a difference between the English orthography and the
American. This will startle those who have not attended to the subject;
but I am confident that such an event is an object of vast political
consequence. For,

"The alteration, however small, would encourage the publication of books
in our own country. It would render it, in some measure, necessary that
all books should be printed in America. The English would never copy our
orthography for their own use; and consequently the same impressions of
books would not answer for both countries. The inhabitants of the
present generation would read the English impressions; but posterity,
being taught a different spelling, would prefer the American

"Besides this, a _national language_ is a band of _national union_.
Every engine should be employed to render the people of this country
_national_; to call their attachments home to their own country; and to
inspire them with the pride of national character. However they may
boast of independence, and the freedom of their government, yet their
_opinions_ are not sufficiently independent; an astonishing respect for
the arts and literature of their parent country, and a blind imitation
of its manners, are still prevalent among the Americans. Thus an
habitual respect for another country, deserved indeed and once laudable,
turns their attention from their own interests, and prevents their
respecting themselves."

He supposes various objections to this reform: that it would oblige
people to relearn the language; that it would render present books
useless; that it would injure the language by obscuring etymology; that
the distinction between words of different meanings and similar sound
would be destroyed; that it was idle to conform the orthography of words
to the pronunciation, because the latter was continually changing. All
these objections he considers and meets with arguments more familiar to
us than they were to men of his day, and then concludes:--

"Sensible I am how much easier it is to _propose_ improvements than to
_introduce_ them. Everything new starts the idea of difficulty, and yet
it is often mere novelty that excites the appearance; for on a slight
examination of the proposal the difficulty vanishes. When we firmly
believe a scheme to be practicable, the work is half accomplished. We
are more frequently deterred by fear from making an attack, than
repulsed in the encounter.

"Habit also is opposed to changes, for it renders even our errors dear
to us. Having surmounted all difficulties in childhood, we forget the
labor, the fatigue, and the perplexity we suffered in the attempt, and
imagine the progress of our studies to have been smooth and easy. What
seems intrinsically right is so merely thro habit. Indolence is another
obstacle to improvements. The most arduous task a reformer has to
execute is to make people _think_; to rouse them from that lethargy,
which, like the mantle of sleep, covers them in repose and contentment.

"But America is in a situation the most favorable for great
reformations; and the present time is, in a singular degree, auspicious.
The minds of men in this country have been awakened. New scenes have
been, for many years, presenting new occasions for exertion; unexpected
distresses have called forth the powers of invention; and the
application of new expedients has demanded every possible exercise of
wisdom and talents. Attention is roused, the mind expanded, and the
intellectual faculties invigorated. Here men are prepared to receive
improvements, which would be rejected by nations whose habits have not
been shaken by similar events.

"_Now_ is the time, and _this_ the country, in which we may expect
success in attempting changes favorable to language, science, and
government. Delay in the plan here proposed may be fatal; under a
tranquil general government the minds of men may again sink into
indolence; a national acquiescence in error will follow, and posterity
be doomed to struggle with difficulties which time and accident will
perpetually multiply.

"Let us, then, seize the present moment and establish a _national
language_ as well as a national government. Let us remember that there
is a certain respect due to the opinions of other nations. As an
independent people, our reputation abroad demands that, in all things,
we should be federal, be _national_; for, if we do not respect
ourselves, we may be assured that other nations will not respect us. In
short, let it be impressed upon the mind of every American, that to
neglect the means of commanding respect abroad is treason against the
character and dignity of a brave, independent people."

In the matter of pronunciation, Webster asserted similar principles in
his earliest essays. He denounces the custom of referring to English
standards for the determination of sounds. In the "Remarks on the
Manners, Government, and Debt of the United States," which I quoted in
the last chapter, he finds fault with his countrymen for their
dependence upon England.

"This same veneration for eminent foreigners and the bewitching charms
of fashion have led the Americans to adopt the modern corruptions of our
language. Very seldom have men examined the structure of the language to
find reasons for their practice. The pronunciation and use of words have
been subject to the same arbitrary or accidental changes as the shape of
their garments. My lord wears a hat of a certain size and shape; he
pronounces a word in a certain manner; and both must be right, for he is
a fashionable man. In Europe this is right in dress; and men who have
not an opportunity of learning the just rules of our language are in
some degree excusable for imitating those whom they consider as
superiors. But in men of science this imitation can hardly be excused.
Our language was spoken in purity about eighty years ago, since which
time great numbers of faults have crept into practice about the theatre
and court of London. An affected, erroneous pronunciation has in many
instances taken place of the true, and new words or modes of speech have
succeeded the ancient correct English phrases. Thus we have, in the
modern English pronunciation, their natshures, conjunctshures,
constitshutions, and tshumultshuous legislatshures, and a long catalogue
of fashionable improprieties. These are a direct violation of the rules
of analogy and harmony; they offend the ear and embarrass the language.
Time was when these errors were unknown; they were little known in
America before the Revolution. I presume we may safely say that our
language has suffered more injurious changes in America, since the
British army landed on our shores, than it had suffered before in the
period of three centuries. The bucks and bloods tell us that there is no
proper standard in language; that it is all arbitrary. The assertion,
however, seems but to show their ignorance. There are, in the language
itself, decisive reasons for preferring one pronunciation to another;
and men of science should be acquainted with these reasons. But if there
were none, and everything rested on practice, we should never change a
general practice without substantial reasons. No change should be
introduced which is not an obvious improvement."

Elsewhere, in a similar spirit, he writes: "Nothing but the
establishment of schools and some uniformity in the use of books can
annihilate differences in speaking, and preserve the purity of the
American tongue. A sameness of pronunciation is of considerable
consequence in a political view, for provincial accents are disagreeable
to strangers, and sometimes have an unhappy effect upon the social
affections.... As an independent nation our honor requires us to have a
system of our own, in language as well as government. Great Britain,
whose children we are, and whose language we speak, should no longer be
our standard; for the taste of her writers is already corrupted, and her
language on the decline. But if it were not so, she is at too great a
distance to be our model, and to instruct us in the principles of our
own tongue.... Rapid changes of language proceed from violent causes,
but these causes cannot be supposed to exist in North America. It is
contrary to all rational calculation that the United States will ever
be conquered by any one nation speaking a different language from that
of the country. Removed from the danger of corruption by conquest, our
language can change only with the slow operation of the causes before
mentioned, and the progress of arts and sciences, unless the folly of
imitating our parent country should continue to govern us and lead us
into endless innovation. This folly, however, will lose its influence
gradually, as our particular habits of respect for that country shall
wear away, and our _amor patriæ_ acquire strength, and inspire us with a
suitable respect for our own national character. We have, therefore, the
fairest opportunity of establishing a national language, and of giving
it uniformity and perspicuity in North America, that ever presented
itself to mankind."

His standard of pronunciation is thus defined: "The rules of the
language itself, and the general practice of the nation, constitute
propriety in speaking. If we examine the structure of any language we
shall find a certain principle of analogy running through the whole. We
shall find in English that similar combinations of letters have usually
the same pronunciation, and that words having the same terminating
syllable generally have the accent at the same distance from that
termination. These principles of analogy were not the result of design;
they must have been the effect of accident, or that tendency which all
men feel toward uniformity. But the principles, when established, are
productive of great convenience, and become an authority superior to the
arbitrary decisions of any man or class of men. There is one exception
only to this remark: When a deviation from analogy has become the
universal practice of a nation, it then takes place of all rules, and
becomes the standard of propriety. The two points, therefore, which I
conceive to be the basis of a standard in speaking are these: universal,
undisputed practice, and the principle of analogy. Universal practice is
generally, perhaps always, a rule of propriety; and in disputed points,
where people differ in opinion and practice, analogy should always
decide the controversy.

"There are authorities to which all men will submit; they are superior
to the opinions and caprices of the great, and to the negligence and
ignorance of the multitude. The authority of individuals is always
liable to be called in question; but the unanimous consent of a nation,
and a fixed principle interwoven with the very construction of a
language, coeval and coextensive with it, are like the common laws of a
land, or the immutable rules of morality, the propriety of which every
man, however refractory, is forced to acknowledge, and to which most men
will readily submit."

Here is the doctrine of majorities, and it will be seen that Webster's
conception of usage is not the usage of the most cultivated, but the
general usage of a people. It was the democratic principle carried to
its utmost length, and yet the notion of an inhering law was quite as
strongly held. Our interest in this portion of his work is in the
examples which he gives of the usage of his day. He points out a number
of instances in which the different sections of the Union were at
variance, and some of these characteristics have certainly disappeared.
Webster's memoranda may be taken with some confidence, for he was a
minute observer, and his opportunities of comparison were excellent.

In the Eastern States he finds a good many people saying _motive_; in
the Middle States some who say _prejudice_. _E_ before _r_ is often
pronounced like _a_, as _marcy_ for _mercy_, an error which he refers
rather illogically to the practice of calling the letter _r ar_, so that
in his Spelling-Book he writes its sound _er_; "in a few instances," he
says, "this pronunciation is become general among polite speakers, as
_clerk_, _sergeant_, etc." In calling attention to the New England
custom of preferring the sound of _i_ short or _e_ before the diphthong
_ow_, as in _kiow_ for _cow_, Webster gravely refers the disagreeable
peculiarity "to the nature of their government and a distribution of
their property." Let the reader reflect a moment before he reads
Webster's philosophical explanation, and see if his own cogitations lead
him in the right direction. "It is an undoubted fact that the drawling
nasal manner of speaking in New England arises almost solely from these
causes. People of large fortunes, who pride themselves on family
distinctions, possess a certain boldness, dignity, and independence in
their manners, which give a corresponding air to their mode of speaking.
Those who are accustomed to command slaves form a habit of expressing
themselves with the tone of authority and decision. In New England,
where there are few slaves and servants, and less family distinctions
than in any other part of America, the people are accustomed to address
each other with that diffidence, or attention to the opinion of others,
which marks a state of equality. Instead of commanding, they advise;
instead of saying, with an air of decision, _you must_; they ask, with
an air of doubtfulness, _is it not best_? or give their opinions with an
indecisive tone; _You had better, I believe._ Not possessing that pride
and consciousness of superiority which attend birth and fortune, their
intercourse with each other is all conducted on the idea of equality,
which gives a singular tone to their language and complexion to their
manners.... Such are the causes of the local peculiarities in
pronunciation which prevail among the country people in New England, and
which, to foreigners, are the objects of ridicule. The great error in
their manner of speaking proceeds immediately from not opening the mouth
sufficiently. Hence words are drawled out in a careless lazy manner, or
the sound finds a passage thro the nose."

This may have the merit of ingenuity, but in connection with it Webster
makes a sounder observation when he compares New England perpetuating
old English idioms because of her isolation, to an internal village
contrasted with a city. "New England has been in the situation of an
island; during one hundred and sixty years, the people, except in a few
commercial towns, have not been exposed to any of the causes which
effect great changes in language and manners."

To continue these notes: he finds the use of _w_ for _v_ prevalent in
Boston and Philadelphia, as _weal_ for _veal_, but unknown in Hartford.
"Vast numbers of people in Boston and the neighborhood use _w_ for _v_;
yet I never once heard this pronunciation in Connecticut." He regards
this use as the survival of old custom, but since the nation in general
had made a distinction, every person should resign his peculiarities
for the sake of uniformity. "The words _either_, _neither_, _deceit_,
_conceit_, _receipt_, are generally pronounced by the Eastern people
_ither_, _nither_, _desate_, _consate_, _resate_. These are errors; all
the standard authors agree to give _ei_ in these words the sound of
_ee_. This is the practice in England, in the Middle and Southern
States, and, what is higher authority, analogy warrants the practice."
He hesitates between _oblige_ and _obleege_, the weight of authority
being equally divided, but analogy persuades him to the former. Analogy
also requires Európean, though modern fashionable speakers have been
introducing the innovation of Européan. "In the Middle and Southern
States _fierce_, _pierce_, _tierce_, are pronounced _feerce_, _peerce_,
_teerce_. To convince the people of the impropriety of this
pronunciation, it might be sufficient to inform them that it is not
fashionable on the English theatre.... The standard English
pronunciation now is _ferce_, _perce_, _terce_, and it is universal in
New England." He arraigns the fashionable world for pronouncing _heard_
as herd, instead of by its true sound of _heard_, in analogy with
_feared_. "_Beard_ is sometimes, but erroneously, pronounced _beerd_.
General practice, both in England and America, requires that _e_ should
be pronounced as in _were_, and I know of no rule opposed to the
practice." He objects to the innovation of _woond_ for _wound_, and
enters upon a long discussion of the pronunciation of _nature_, finally
falling back upon his countrymen's _natur_.

Webster inculcated his views on orthography and pronunciation upon all
occasions. He wrote, he lectured, he pressed home his doctrines upon
persons and assemblies. He was one of the first to perceive the
importance of getting his principles adopted in printing-houses. Long
after the time of which I am writing he continued to act as a missionary
in philology. The present printer of "Webster's Dictionary" remembers
that when he was a boy of thirteen, working at the case in Burlington,
Vermont, a little pale-faced man came into the office and handed him a
printed slip, saying, "My lad, when you use these words, please oblige
me by spelling them as here: _theater_, _center_," etc. It was Noah
Webster traveling about among the printing-offices, and persuading
people to spell as he did: a better illustration could not be found of
the reformer's sagacity, and his patient method of effecting his

His contemporaries were obliged to take sides when so aggressive a
spirit was among them. His doctrines were discussed in society and in
print. The Φ Β Κ Society at Yale debated upon the adoption of
Webster's orthography, deciding in 1792 in favor of it, and reversing
their decision in 1794. Webster, by the way, was not unmindful of his
college. In 1790, as an encouragement to the study of the English
language, he made a foundation for an annual prize to be given to the
author of the composition which should be judged best by the faculty;
but the foundation does not appear to have been permanent. Just as later
he went to the printing-offices to secure a conformity to his
orthography, so in the earlier years he had directed his arguments at
the schools. In 1798 he published "A Letter to the Governors,
Instructors, and Trustees of the Universities, and other Seminaries of
Learning in the United States, on the Errors of English Grammar," from
which I have already quoted; and appeals to these men, who are to give
direction to the education of the young, to free themselves from a
slavish dependence upon England. "It will be honorable to us as a
nation, and more useful to our native tongue and to science, that we
examine the grounds of all rules and changes before we adopt them, and
reject all such as have not obvious propriety for their foundation or
utility for their object."

Webster's studies had thus been gravitating toward lexicography, and the
habits of mind which had been confirmed in his various pursuits were
precisely such as would serve best the purpose which he was gradually
forming. Dr. Chauncey Goodrich, in the memoir which is prefixed to the
Dictionary, remarks upon certain habits formed by him early in life,
which, becoming fixed principles, were of inestimable advantage in his
labors afterward. While his memory was tenacious, he was a great hoarder
of documents and marker of books; he was a careful methodizer of his
knowledge; he accustomed himself to a great variety and to unceasing
diligence in literary toil, and he was perpetually going back of facts
to the principles which he thought to underlie them.

It had been his custom for many years to jot down words which he met in
reading, and failed to find in dictionaries, and his labors upon the
Spelling-Book and Grammar had familiarized him with the task of
discriminating and defining, and had also disclosed to him the
deficiencies in that respect of current dictionaries. In 1806 he
published "A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language," in which
he announced, with an amusing foretaste of the larger claims of the
"Unabridged," that it contained five thousand more words than were to be
found in the best English compends. The Dictionary was rendered still
more useful by taking under its protection various tables of moneys and
weights, an official list of all the post-offices in the United States,
the number of inhabitants in the several States, and new and instructive
chronological tables. This, by the way, was the first occasion, I think,
when a word-book had departed from the customary boundaries of such
literature. I have been able to find but one precedent, Dyche and
Pardon's Dictionary, which, published a few years before, had contained
a supplementary list of persons and places, arranged alphabetically, and
apparently only as a museum of curiosities. This Dictionary had,
however, as a part of its regular text the several market towns in
England and Wales, with a general description of the places, their
situation, market-days, government, manufacture, number of
representatives sent to parliament, and distance from London. The
encyclopædic features of a dictionary are clearly of American addition,
growing out of the more general and exclusive use of the Dictionary as a
book of reference, and increased by the suggestions of competition. The
Dictionary proper was an enlargement of Entick, and in this preliminary
work Webster exercised very little authority in deviating from the
generally accepted orthography. The extent of his changes is indicated
in his preface:--

"In a few instances I have preferred the orthography of Newton,
Prideaux, Hook, Dryden, Whiston, etc., to that of Johnson, as being more
analogical and purely English, as _scepter_, _sepulcher_. In omitting
_u_ in _honour_ and a few words of that class I have pursued a common
practice in this country, authorized by the principle of uniformity and
by etymology, as well as by Ash's Dictionary. In omitting _k_ after _c_
[as in _public_] I have unequivocal propriety and the present usage for
my authorities. In a few words, modern writers are gradually purifying
the orthography from its corruptions. Thus, Edwards in his 'History of
the West Indies,' and Gregory in his 'Economy of Nature,' Pope, Hoole,
etc., restore _mold_ to its true spelling; and it would be no small
convenience to revive the etymological spelling of _aker_. Cullen, in
his translation of 'Clavigero,' follows Bacon and Davenport in the true
Saxon orthography of _drouth_; and the elegant Blackstone has corrected
the orthography of _nusance_ and _duchy_. The diphthongs in words
borrowed from the Latin language have gradually been sinking into
desuetude for a century; the few which remain I have expunged."

Dr. Johnson was the Magnus Apollo of lexicographers then, and his bulky
fame still casts a large shadow over the world of words. To rebel
against his autocratic rule at the beginning of this century was to
write one's self down an audacious and presuming sciolist. It is not
surprising, therefore, that Webster's criticism of Johnson in this
Dictionary and in other places should have exposed him to censure. Dr.
Ramsay of Charleston, a man of consequence in his day, wrote him that
the "prejudices against any American attempts to improve Dr. Johnson
were very strong in that city." The letter gave Webster his opportunity,
and he at once wrote and published his vigorous pamphlet respecting the
"Errors in Johnson's Dictionary and other Lexicons," which is addressed
to Dr. Ramsay. He takes a very lofty view of the situation. "The
intelligence," he writes, of this resentment in Charleston, "is not
wholly unexpected, for similar prejudices have been manifested in some
parts of the Northern States. A man who has read with slight attention
the history of nations, in their advances from barbarism to civilization
and science, cannot be surprised at the strength of prejudices long
established and never disturbed. Few centuries have elapsed since many
men lost their lives or their liberty by publishing NEW TRUTHS; and not
two centuries have past since Galileo was imprisoned by an
ecclesiastical court, for defending the truth of the Copernican System,
condemned to do penance for three years, and his book burnt at Rome, as
containing dangerous and damnable heresies. This example is cited as one
of a multitude which the history of man presents to our view; and if it
differs in _degree_, it accords in _principle_, with the case now before
the American public."

He then, after admitting the value of Johnson's ethical writings, but
distrusting his philological attainments, makes good his objections by
detailed specifications. He condemns the insertion of a multitude of
words which do not belong to the language, mentioning such unnaturalized
foreigners as _adversable_, _advesperate_, _adjugate_, _agriculation_,
_abstrude_, _injudicable_, _spicosity_, _crapulence_, _morigerous_,
_tenebrosity_, _balbucinate_, _illachrymable_, etc., words to which the
reader may, if he knows Latin, attach some sort of meaning, but which he
would be slow to introduce into his speech or writing. Then he condemns
Johnson's reference to writers of the seventeenth century who buried
their thoughts beneath cumbrous piles of Latinized English, as in such
passages as:--

"The intire or broken _compagination_ of the magnetical fabric;" "The
effects of their activity are not precipitously _abrupted_, but
gradually proceed to their cessations;" "Some have written rhetorically
and _concessively_, not controverting, but assuming, the question,
which, taken as granted, advantaged the illation;" "Its fluctuations are
but motions subservient, which winds, shelves, and every interjacency
_irregulates_;" passages given as illustrative of the words italicized.
"From a careful examination of this work, and its effect upon the
language, I am inclined to believe that Johnson's authority has
multiplied instead of reducing the number of corruptions in the English
language. Let any man of correct taste cast his eye on such words as
_denominable_, _opiniatry_, _ariolation_, _assation_, _ataraxy_,
_clancular_, _comminuible_, _conclusible_, _dedentition_,
_deuteroscopy_, _digladiation_, _dignotion_, _cubiculary_,
_discubitory_, _exolution_, _exeuterate_, _incompossible_,
_incompossibility_, _indigitate_, etc., and let him say whether a
dictionary which gives thousands of such terms as authorized English
words is a safe standard of writing.... In the 'English-Dutch
Dictionary' of Willcocke, we find the compiler has translated
_ariolation_, _clancular_, _denomiable_, _comminuible_, etc., into
Dutch. In Bailey's 'Fahrenkruger,' we see _digladiation_, _dignotion_,
_exeuterate_, etc., turned into German. These, or similar words, are by
Neuman translated into Spanish, and where the mischief ends it is
impossible to ascertain. And what must foreigners think of English taste
and erudition, when they are told that their dictionaries contain
thousands of such words which are not used by the English nation!"

Webster's next point is that Johnson has exceeded the bounds of
legitimate lexicography by the admission of vulgar and cant words. "It
may be alleged that it is the duty of a lexicographer to insert and
define all words found in English books: then such words as _fishify_,
_jackalent_, _parma-city_, _jiggumbob_, _conjobble_, _foutra_, etc., are
legitimate English words! Alas, had a native of the United States
introduced such vulgar words and offensive ribaldry into a similar
work, what columns of abuse would have issued from the Johnsonian
presses against the wretch who could thus sully his book and corrupt the
language!" He criticises the accuracy with which Johnson has
discriminated the different senses of the same word, and words nearly
synonymous. The illustrative quotations which bear so much of the praise
bestowed upon Johnson's Dictionary he declares to be one of the most
exceptionable features, both because no small number of the examples are
taken from authors who did not write the language with purity, and
because a still larger number throw no light upon the definitions, and
are frequently entirely unnecessary. He cites on this last point the
passages under the word _alley_, five in all, from Spenser, Bacon,
Milton, Dryden, and Pope. "Does any reader of English want all these
authorities to show the word to be legitimate? Far from it, nineteen
twentieths of all our words are so common that they require no proof at
all of legitimacy. Yet the example here given is by no means the most
exceptionable for the number of authorities cited. The author sometimes
offers thirty or forty lines to illustrate words which every man, woman,
and child understands as well as Johnson. Thirty-five lines of
exemplification under the word _froth_, for example, are just as useless
in explaining the word as would be the same number of lines from the
language of the Six Nations."

His final charge rests on the inaccuracy of the etymology. "As this has
been generally considered the least important part of a dictionary the
subject has been little investigated, and is very imperfectly
understood, even by men of science. Johnson scarcely entered the
threshold of the subject. He consulted chiefly Junius and Skinner; the
latter of whom was not possessed of learning adequate to the
investigation, and Junius, like Vossius, Scaliger, and most other
etymologists on the Continent, labored to deduce all languages from the
Greek. Hence these authors neglected the principal sources of
information, which were to be found only in the north of Europe, and in
the west of Ireland and Scotland. In another particular they all failed
of success; they never discovered some of the principal modes in which
the primitive radical words were combined to form the more modern
compounds. On this subject, therefore, almost _everything remains to be
done_.... I can assure the American public that the errors in Johnson's
Dictionary are ten times as numerous as they suppose; and that the
confidence now reposed in its accuracy is the greatest injury to
philology that now exists. I can assure them further that if any man,
whatever may be his abilities in other respects, should attempt to
compile a new dictionary, or amend Johnson's, without a profound
knowledge of etymology, he will unquestionably do as much harm as good."

A few years later Webster found an opportunity to attack the general
subject of lexicography from another side, and one intimately connected
with his special work. In 1816 Hon. John Pickering published "A
Vocabulary, or Collection of Words and Phrases which have been supposed
to be peculiar to the United States of America. To which is prefixed an
Essay on the Present State of the English Language in the United
States;" he had cited Webster upon various words and plainly was aiming
at him in his preface, when he declared that "in this country, as in
England, we have thirsty reformers and presumptuous sciolists, who would
unsettle the whole of our admirable language, for the purpose of making
it conform to their whimsical notions of propriety." Webster at once
addressed a letter in print to Pickering, and took up weapons, offensive
and defensive, with alacrity and confidence.

"This is a heavy accusation, Sir, from a gentleman of your talents,
liberality, and candor," he writes. "Sciolists we may have in
multitudes; but who are the men who would unsettle the whole of our
language? Can you name the men, or any of them, either in this country
or in England? Surely the finger of scorn ought to be pointed at the men
who are base enough to wish, and sottish enough to attempt, to unsettle
a whole language. I am confident, Sir, that deliberate reflection will
induce you to retract a charge so injurious to your fellow-citizens. It
certainly becomes you, and the character you maintain in society, to
learn the distinction between an attempt to find what the language is,
and an attempt to unsettle its principles. Whether you number me with
the thirsty reformers and presumptuous sciolists is a fact which I shall
take no pains to discover, nor, if known, would the fact give me the
smallest concern." Webster's hand trembles evidently with suppressed
anger, but he grows firmer as he goes on. "My studies have been
sometimes directed to philology, for the exclusive purpose of
ascertaining and unfolding its principles, correcting abuses, and
supplying the defect of rules in our elementary treatises. In the course
of my researches I have discovered a multitude of errors and false
principles, and numerous defects in such treatises; and as I have pushed
my inquiries probably much farther than any other man, I am satisfied
that the evidence I can lay before the public will convince you that
there is a rich mine of knowledge to be opened on this subject that your
English friends have never yet discovered." He takes up Pickering's
Vocabulary and rapidly criticises the several entries; he renews his
criticism upon Johnson and Lowth, but the most interesting part of the
pamphlet is his stout advocacy of the claim of Americans to make and
accept changes of language which grow out of their own conditions. The
English language was a common inheritance in England and America, and in
the necessary growth of a spoken language, Americans had equal right
with Englishmen to contribute to the growth; nay, that the American was
not a dialect of the English, but a variation; not a departure from a
standard existing in contemporary England, but an independent branch
from a common stock.

"New words should not be introduced into a copious language without
reason, nor contrary to its analogies. But a living language must keep
pace with improvements in knowledge, and with the multiplication of
ideas. Those who would entirely restrain the practice of using new words
seem not to consider that the limit they now prescribe would have been
as just and rational, a thousand or two thousand years ago, as it is at
this period. If it should be said, we have words enough to express all
our ideas, it may be truly answered, so had our ancestors when they left
the plains of Germany; or when they first crossed the Hellespont; or
when they left the soil of Persia. And what then? Would the words they
then used be now sufficient for our purpose. And who can define the
bounds of future improvement? Who will venture to allege that men have
not yet as much to learn as they have already learnt? The smallest
acquaintance with the history of human society and improvement ought to
silence the critics on this subject.

"Nor are we to believe that two nations inhabiting countries separated
by a wide ocean can preserve a perfect uniformity of language. If a
perfect uniformity cannot be produced or preserved in two distant
counties in England, how is this object to be effected between the
English in Great Britain and their descendants in America, India, or New
Holland? Let history answer the question. The art of printing,
interchange of books, and commercial intercourse will retard the
progress of mutation and diversities; but no human means can prevent
some changes, and the adaptation of language to diversities of condition
and improvement. The process of a living language is like the motion of
a broad river, which flows with a slow, silent, irresistible current."
He turns the tables on a writer who points out American barbarisms by
showing a number of English barbarisms which had been creeping into use,
and declares that in the use of language one nation as well as the other
will commit these errors, but he returns again and again to his position
that Americans in their use of language are not to wait passively upon
English authority.

"I venerate," he says, "the men and their writings; I venerate the
literature, the laws, the institutions, and the charities of the land of
my fathers. But I deprecate the effects of a blind acquiescence in the
opinions of men, and the passive reception of everything that comes from
a foreign press. My mind revolts at the reverence for foreign authors,
which stifles inquiry, restrains investigation, benumbs the vigor of the
intellectual faculties, subdues and debases the mind. I regret to see
the young Hercules of genius in America chained to his cradle.... I left
college with the same veneration for English writers, and the same
confidence in their opinions, which most of my countrymen now possess,
and I adopted their errors without examination. After many years of
research, I am compelled to withdraw much of that confidence, and to
look with astonishment upon the errors and false principles which they
have propagated; some of them of far more consequence than any which
have been mentioned in the preceding remarks. I wish to be on good terms
with the English; it is my interest and the interest of my
fellow-citizens to treat them as friends and brethren. But I will be
neither frowned nor ridiculed into error, and a servile imitation of
practices which I know or believe to be corrupt. I will examine subjects
for myself, and endeavor to find the truth, and to defend it, whether it
accords with English opinions or not. If I must measure swords with
their travelers and their reviewers, on the subject under consideration,
I shall not decline the combat. There is nothing which, in my opinion,
so debases the genius and character of my countrymen as the implicit
confidence they place in English authors, and their unhesitating
submission to their opinions, their derision, and their frowns. But I
trust the time will come when the English will be convinced that the
intellectual faculties of their descendants have not degenerated in
America; and that we can contend with them in LETTERS with as much
success as upon the OCEAN.

"I am not ignorant, Sir, of the narrowness of the sphere which I now
occupy. Secluded, in a great measure, from the world, with small means,
and no adventitious aid from men of science; with little patronage to
extend my influence, and powerful enmities to circumscribe it; what can
my efforts avail in attempting to counter-act a current of opinion? Yet
I am not accustomed to despondence. I have contributed in a small degree
to the instruction of at least four millions of the rising generation;
and it is not unreasonable to expect that a few seeds of improvement,
planted by my hand, may germinate and grow and ripen into valuable
fruit, when my remains shall be mingled with the dust." A note is added,
in which Webster with grave banter offers a suit of clothes to any
English or American reviewer who will find a man capable of explaining
the little word _by_, stating its primary signification and its true
sense in its several uses and applications.

The spirit with which Webster defended himself was a manly one, and it
is noticeable how years of fencing had improved the temper of his
weapons. He was keener in his thrusts, more dexterous and supple, and
comported himself in these disputes as a man entirely confident of his
position. It is not vanity which upholds a man working silently year
after year at a task ridiculed by his neighbors and denounced by his
enemies. Webster had something better to sustain him than an idle
self-conceit. He had the reserve of a high purpose, and an aim which had
been growing more clearly understood by himself, so that he could afford
to disregard the judgments of others. There was in the outward
circumstance of his life something which testifies to the sincerity and
worth of his purpose. He had withdrawn himself into the wilderness that
he might free himself from encumbrances in his work, and with his love
of society this was no light thing to do. His family went with him
reluctantly; but when did not an enthusiast drag with him to his own
light sacrifice the unwilling attendants of his life!


[13] In the possession of Rev. R. C. Waterston.

[14] "The first by Sir Thomas Smith, secretary of state to Queen
Elizabeth; another by Dr. Gill, a celebrated master of St. Paul's School
in London; another by Mr. Charles Butler, who went so far as to print
his book in his proposed orthography; several in the time of Charles the
first; and in the present age, Mr. Elphinstone has published a treatise
in a very ridiculous orthography."



At the close of the Preface to his Compendious Dictionary, Webster
announced his intention of compiling and publishing a full and
comprehensive dictionary of the language. After answering the objections
which candid friends might raise, he added: "From a different class of
men, if such are to be found, whose criticism would sink the literature
of this country even lower than the distorted representations of foreign
reviewers,--whose veneration for transatlantic authors leads them to
hold American writers in unmerited contempt,--from such men I neither
expect nor solicit favor. However arduous the task, and however feeble
my powers of body and mind, a thorough conviction of the necessity and
importance of the undertaking has overcome my fears and objections, and
determined me to make an effort to dissipate the charm of veneration
for foreign authors which fascinates the minds of men in this country
and holds them in the chains of illusion. In the investigation of this
subject great labor is to be sustained, and numberless difficulties
encountered; but with a humble dependence on Divine favor for the
preservation of my life and health, I shall prosecute the work with
diligence, and execute it with a fidelity suited to its importance."

It was 1806 when he sat down to the task, and twenty years of almost
continuous labor were expended before the work then projected was given
to the world in the first edition of the "American Dictionary of the
English Language," in two volumes quarto. Complete absorption in his
work, which could yield nothing until it was completed, crippled his
resources, confined now in the main to copyright from his Spelling-Book;
and in 1812 he removed, as we have already seen, for economy's sake,
from New Haven to Amherst. During the next ten years he nearly completed
the bulk of the Dictionary, but there still remained much to do in the
way of comparison and finer study than his own library afforded. He
returned to New Haven in 1822, but further work there showed the
insufficiency of material to be had in America; and in 1824, leaving his
family, he took with him a son and set out for Europe, for the purpose
of consulting men and books. He spent two months in Paris, where S. G.
Goodrich met him. "A slender form, with a black coat, black
small-clothes, black silk stockings, moving back and forth, with its
hands behind it, and evidently in a state of meditation. It was a
curious, quaint, Connecticut-looking apparition, strangely in contrast
to the prevailing forms and aspects in this gay metropolis. I said to
myself, 'If it were possible, I should say that was Noah Webster!' I
went up to him and found it was indeed he."

He was satisfied that he should work to better advantage in England. He
went accordingly to Cambridge in the early fall of 1824, and remained
there until the following May, using the resources of the University,
and making such connections as he could, though he found rather barren
sympathy from English scholars, and small encouragement from English
publishers. His training and studies, moreover, were not such as to
place him in very cordial relationship with Englishmen, and his attitude
toward the scholastic deposit of an old nation may be guessed from a
passage in one of his letters home, in which he writes: "The colleges
are mostly old stone buildings, which look very heavy, cold, and gloomy
to an American accustomed to the new public buildings in our country."

There is something in the whole undertaking, and in the mode of its
execution, which makes one by turns wonder at the splendid will and
undaunted perseverance of this Yankee teacher, and feel a well-bred
annoyance at his blindness to the incongruous position which he
occupied. One is disposed to laugh sardonically over this self-taught
dictionary-maker, encamped at Cambridge, coolly pursuing his work of an
American Dictionary of the English Language in the midst of all that
traditional scholarship. But Webster's own consciousness was of the
gravity of his work. "When I finished my copy," he writes in a letter to
Dr. Thomas Miner, "I was sitting at my table in Cambridge, England,
January, 1825. When I arrived at the last word I was seized with a
tremor that made it difficult to proceed. I, however, summoned up
strength to finish the work, and then, walking about the room, I soon
recovered." This may be a faint echo of Gibbon's celebrated passage, but
it is inherently truthful, and marks the effect upon him of a sustained
purpose, brought, after a score of years, to completion. The Dictionary
was published three years after his return to America, and passed
through one revision at Mr. Webster's hands in 1840. He was still at
work upon it when he died, in 1843. It is fair to look to the preface of
a great work, especially of one which seems to admit little personality,
for an account of the motives and aims of the workman. In following the
lines of Webster's preface we discover the principles which we have
already noted stated anew and with increasing confidence. He gives
reasons why it had become necessary that an English dictionary should be
revised to meet the exigencies of American as distinct from English
life, and he says finally: "One consideration, however, which is
dictated by my own feelings, but which I trust will meet with
approbation in correspondent feelings in my fellow-citizens, ought not
to be passed in silence; it is this: 'The chief glory of a nation,' says
Dr. Johnson, 'arises from its authors.' With this opinion deeply
impressed on my mind, I have the same ambition which actuated that great
man when he expressed a wish to give celebrity to Bacon, to Hooker, to
Milton, and to Boyle. I do not, indeed, expect to add celebrity to the
names of Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jay, Madison, Marshall, Ramsay,
Dwight, Smith, Trumbull, Hamilton, Belknap, Ames, Mason, Kent, Hare,
Silliman, Cleaveland, Walsh, Irving, and many other Americans
distinguished by their writings or by their science; but it is with
pride and satisfaction that I can place them, as authorities, on the
same page with those of Boyle, Hooker, Milton, Dryden, Addison, Ray,
Milner, Cowper, Thomson, Davy, and Jameson. A life devoted to reading
and to an investigation of the origin and principles of our vernacular
language, and especially a particular examination of the best English
writers, with a view to a comparison of their style and phraseology
with those of the best American writers and with our colloquial usage,
enables me to affirm, with confidence, that the genuine English idiom is
as well preserved by the unmixed English of this country as it is by the
best _English_ writers. Examples to prove this fact will be found in the
Introduction to this work. It is true that many of our writers have
neglected to cultivate taste and the embellishments of style, but even
these have written the language in its genuine _idiom_. In this respect
Franklin and Washington, whose language is their hereditary
mother-tongue, unsophisticated by modern grammar, present as pure models
of genuine English as Addison and Swift. But I may go further, and
affirm with truth that our country has produced some of the best models
of composition. The style of President Smith, of the authors of the
Federalist, of Mr. Ames, of Dr. Mason, of Mr. Harper, of Chancellor
Kent, [the prose]" happily bracketed reservation! "of Mr. Barlow, of Dr.
Channing, of Washington Irving, of the legal decisions of the Supreme
Court of the United States, of the reports of legal decisions in some
of the particular States, and many other writings, in purity, in
elegance, and in technical precision, is equalled only by that of the
best British authors, and surpassed by that of no English compositions
of a similar kind.

"The United States commenced their existence under circumstances wholly
novel and unexampled in the history of nations. They commenced with
civilization, with learning, with science, with constitutions of free
government, and with that best gift of God to man, the Christian
religion. Their population is now equal to that of England; in arts and
sciences our citizens are very little behind the most enlightened people
on earth,--in some respects they have no superiors; and our language
within two centuries will be spoken by more people in this country than
any language on earth, except the Chinese, in Asia, and even that may
not be an exception."

It is instructive to compare the preface with the celebrated one by Dr.
Johnson, introducing his dictionary. Webster, filled with a parochial
enthusiasm for his native country, exaggerates the necessity for a
local dictionary, and anticipates the vast audience that will one day
require his work. To him language is the instrument not so much of
literature as of daily association. He thinks of a dictionary as a book
of reference for the plain reader, and a guide to him in the correct use
of his vernacular. Johnson, proud of his literary heritage, burdened
with a sense of his own inadequacy, at once confesses the dignity of his
work and the melancholy of his own nature. He acknowledges the
limitation of his own philological attainments, and rests his claims to
honor upon the fullness with which he has gathered and arranged the
materials scattered through the vast area of English literature. The one
sees the subject from the side of nationality, the other from that of
literature. Webster is thinking of his own people, Johnson of the
un-national tribe of scholars and men of letters. The historical
associations justify each, for Johnson was distinctly the member of a
great class which was beginning to assert its independence of social
authority. With all his loyalty to his king, he was at heart a
republican in literature, and stoutly denied the divine right of
patrons. His dictionary was the sign of literary emancipation; it was
the witness to an intellectual freedom which might be in alliance with
government, but could not be its tool. The history of English literature
since that date is a democratic history. Webster, on his part, was the
prophet of a national independence, in which language and literature
were involved as inseparable elements. To him books were neither the
production nor the possession of a class, but necessarily incident to
the life of a free people. Hence, in his citation of American
authorities, he is undaunted by the paucity of purely literary men; law
reports and state documents answer his purpose as well. He saw
literature as the accompaniment of self-government, and the dictionary
in his eyes was a vast school-book, not a thesaurus of literature.

I can hardly expect my readers to follow me patiently through a close
examination of the successive editions of Webster's large dictionary,
and I have no such high opinion of my own patience as to suppose that I
should continue on the road after my readers had dropped behind; but it
is possible to make a rough comparison of the first edition of 1828 and
the latest of 1880, in order to see what Webster did which needed to be
undone, and to form some estimate of the substantial service which he
rendered lexicography in that edition which was more nearly his sole and
unaided work.

To take, then, the matter of orthography, there are certain general
classes of words which have borne the brunt of criticism. In his first
edition Webster's rule was to omit _k_ after _c_ from the end of all
words of more than one syllable, and to retain it in longer forms of the
same word only when it was required to defend the hard sound of c. He
wrote thus: _public_, _publication_. But Webster, like writers of
to-day, was constantly allowing his uniform rule to give way in cases
where custom had fastened upon him. Thus he still spelled _traffick_,
_almanack_, _frolick_, _havock_, and it was quite possible for his
critics to follow him through a long list of words of this class and
detect his frequent aberration from a uniform rule. Yet, instead of
receding from his position, the latest edition advances; a nicer
discrimination is made in the etymological origin of the variation, but
in point of practice a much more general conformity to the rule is
recorded. There can be no question that the _k_ has a foreign air when
found in such cases in American books.

Again, Webster omitted the _u_ in the unaccented termination _our_, as
_honor_ for _honour_. In this, too, he was not without English
precedent. Johnson was singularly inconsistent in this respect, and his
influence has extended over English orthography to the present day, so
that one cannot take up a well-printed English journal without
discovering an apparently arbitrary use of the termination. The usage as
recorded by Webster has held its ground, and there is no variation
between the first and latest editions, except that the alternative form
_Saviour_ is given in the latest as a concession to an undefined sense
of sanctity which would lead to a separation of the word from its class.
There is a foot-note in the edition of 1828, in which Washington's
omission of _u_ is cited as an argument in favor of the form _or_.

There is the vexed form _er_ for _re_ in such words as _center_ for
_centre_. It is fair on this point to give the note which Webster
originally made in defense of his position: "A similar fate has attended
the attempt to Anglicize the orthography of another class of words,
which we have received from the French. At a very early period the words
_chambre_, _desastre_, _desordre_, _chartre_, _monstre_, _tendre_,
_tigre_, _entre_, _fievre_, _diametre_, _arbitre_, _nombre_, and others
were reduced to the English form of spelling: _chamber_, _disaster_,
_charter_, _monster_, _tender_, _tiger_, _enter_, _fever_, _diameter_,
_arbiter_, _number_. At a later period, Sir Isaac Newton, Camden,
Selden, Milton, Whitaker, Prideaux, Hook, Whiston, Bryant, and other
authors of the first character attempted to carry through this
reformation, writing _scepter_, _center_, _sepulcher_. But this
improvement was arrested, and a few words of this class retain their
French orthography: such as _metre_, _mitre_, _nitre_, _spectre_,
_sceptre_, _theatre_, _sepulchre_, and sometimes _centre_. It is
remarkable that a nation distinguished for erudition should thus reject
improvements, and retain anomalies, in opposition to all the convenience
of uniformity. I am glad that so respectable a writer as Mitford has
discarded this innovation, and uniformly written _center_, _scepter_,
_theater_, _sepulcher_. In the present instance want of uniformity is
not the only evil. The present orthography has introduced an awkward
mode of writing the derivatives, for example, _centred_, _sceptred_,
_sepulchred_; whereas Milton and Pope wrote these words as regular
derivatives of _center_, _scepter_, _sepulcher_, thus, '_Sceptered_
king.' So Coxe in his travels, 'The principal wealth of the church is
_centered_ in the monasteries.' This is correct."

The two Websters agree in the main, but some of the variations in the
first disappear in the latest. Thus Noah Webster gave the alternative
forms _massacer_, _massacre_, preferring the former, and _aker_, _acre_,
a curious inconsistency; the editors of the latest edition have dropped
these proposed improvements, and have given secondary alternative forms
in _theatre_, _metre_, _centre_, _sepulchre_, _nitre_, and perhaps some
others. Both accept _chancre_, _lucre_, and _ogre_. It may be said in
general that the game on these words is a drawn one, with a stubborn
retention of the _re_ form on the part of the most careful writers, and
a growing majority in numbers in favor of the _er_ form.

In the edition of 1828 Webster laid down the rule that verbs ending in a
single consonant, but having the accent on the first syllable, or on a
syllable preceding the last, ought not to double the final consonant in
the derivatives. Thus he wrote _travel_, _traveler_, _traveling_. The
editors of the latest edition find no occasion to revise this rule, and
report that other lexicographers advise a conformity to it, but they
record a large number of exceptions to satisfy "the prejudice of the
eye." His corresponding rule is "that monosyllabic verbs, ending in a
single consonant, not preceded by a long vowel, and other verbs ending
in a single accented consonant, and of course not preceded by a long
vowel, double the final consonant in all the derivatives which are
formed by a termination beginning with a vowel." This applies to _fit_,
_fitted_, _compel_, _compelled_. This rule, like the other, is retained
by the later editors, though both rules are more exactly framed. No
question has been raised upon this point, and the nice correspondence of
the two rules is likely in process of time to break down those
exceptions to the former which usage now makes familiar.

Does the reader, when he writes, hesitate perilously before the words
_distil_ or _distill_, _control_ or _controll_, _recal_ or _recall_? It
can only be said that neither Webster nor his editors could frame a rule
which they were ready to follow. They agree in their inconsistencies,
and have brought over other lexicographers in some cases to their
disposition to double the _l_. The indecision, however, which one feels
before _skilful_ or _skillful_ is more painful,--are we to say
_painfull_? Here again the first and latest editions of Webster are at
one with each other, and at variance with old and established usage. The
editors of Webster appear to yield the ground a little by conceding that
_skilful_, _dulness_, and like words are so written by many. Webster's
change in this respect seems therefore to have made no headway except in
his own family.

There are other words which may be grouped in classes, but I will
content myself with a further enumeration, somewhat at random, of words
which Webster trifled with, as his enemies might say, or reduced to
order, as he would claim; placing in parallel columns the spelling
adopted in the first edition and that followed in the latest:--

  EDITION OF 1828.          EDITION OF 1880.

  ax                        ax }

  controller                comptroller}
                            controller }

  contemporary              contemporary}
                            cotemporary }

  defense                   defense}

  ambassador                embassador}

  gantlet}                  gantlet }
  gauntlet}                 gauntlet}

  drouth                    drought

  group}                    group

  heighth}                  height}
  hight}                    hight }

  maneuver                  maneuver   }

  melasses                  molasses

  mold                      mold }

  molt                      molt }

  plow                      plow  }

  tongue}                   tongue
  tung  }

  wo                        woe

  crum                      crumb

  pontif                    pontiff

  ake }                     ache

  maiz                      maize

  gimblet                   gimlet

  feather}                  feather
  fether }

  steady}                   steady

  mosk                      mosque

  ribin                     ribbon

  cutlas                    cutlass

  skain                     skain}

  sherif                    sheriff

  porpess                   porpoise

It should be added that in many cases where the later editors have
receded from Webster's advanced position they have added a note
approving his innovation as etymologically correct and preferable. There
can be no doubt that Webster was careless and inconsistent in his entry
of these words, since he would venture his improvement under the word,
fling scorn at the current usage, and then, when using the word
elsewhere in definition or in compounds, forget his improvement and
follow the customary orthography. From our rapid survey of the
orthography, however, it may be said in general that Webster's decision
in the case of classes of words has been maintained in subsequent
editions, but his individual alterations have been regarded as
contributions to an impossibly ideal correct orthography, and quietly
dropped. The fact illustrates Webster's strength and weakness. His
notions on the subject of uniformity were often very sensible, and he
had the advantage of reducing to order what was hopelessly chaotic in
common usage. But his sense of the stability of usage was imperfect, and
when he moved among the words at random, arranging the language to suit
his personal taste, he discovered or his successors did that words have
roots of another kind than what etymologists regard.

Webster was wont to defend himself against the common charge of
proposing new forms of words, by showing that, if one went far enough
back, he would be sure to come upon the same forms in English
literature; that his aim was to restore, not to invent, and to bring
back the language to its earlier and historic shape. This is a defense
familiar to us in these later days of spelling reform; and no one
doubts, who knows the chaos of English spelling before the days of
printing, that authority could be found for any favorite mode of
spelling a word. Webster claimed the same conservative principles in the
matter of pronunciation, and stoutly declared that he was a champion for
historic English sounds as opposed to the innovations offered by
Sheridan, Walker, and Jamieson. "The language of a nation," he says in
his Introduction, "is the common property of the people, and no
individual has a right to make in-roads upon its principles. As it is
the medium of communication between men, it is important that the same
written words and the same oral sounds to express the same ideas should
be used by the whole nation. When any man, therefore, attempts to change
the established orthography or pronunciation, except to correct palpable
errors and produce uniformity by recalling wanderers into the pale of
regular analogies, he offers an indignity to the nation. No local
practice, however respectable, will justify the attempt. There is great
dignity, as well as propriety, in respecting the universal and
long-established usages of a nation. With these views of the subject, I
feel myself bound to reject all modern innovations which violate the
established principles and analogies of the language, and destroy or
impair the value of alphabetical writing. I have therefore endeavored to
present to my fellow-citizens the English language in its genuine
purity, as we have received the inheritance from our ancestors, without
removing a landmark. If the language is fatally destined to be
corrupted, I will not be an instrument of the mischief."

These are certainly brave words, and there are even people who would
doubt if Webster had the courage of such convictions. In his Dictionary
he seems to have somewhat underestimated the importance of noting the
pronunciation. He devotes a number of pages, it is true, in the
Introduction, to a discussion of the principles involved, but in marking
the words he used only the simplest method, and disregarded refinements
of speech. The word culture, for instance, is marked by him [c-]ul´ture,
while in the latest edition it appears as [c-]ŭlt´ūre (kŭlt´yṳr). He
had a few antipathies, as to the _tsh_ sound then fashionable in such
words as _tumult_, and with a certain native pugnacity he attacked the
orthoepists who at that time had elaborated their system more than had
the orthographists; he did not believe that nice shades of sound could
be represented to the eye by characters, and he appears to have been
somewhat impatient of the whole subject. He maintained that the speech
which generally prevailed in New England in his day represented the best
and most historic pronunciation. The first ministers had been educated
at the universities, and the respect felt for them had led to a general
acceptance of their mode of speech. He himself said _vollum_ for volume,
and _pătriot_, and _perce_ for pierce. He regarded Sheridan, Walker,
Perry, Jones, and Jamieson as having, in their attempts at securing
uniformity, only unsettled the old and familiar speech,--a curious
commentary on his own performances in orthography. He does not here,
either, forget his loyalty to America. "In a few instances," he says,
"the common usage of a great and respectable portion of the people of
this country accords with the analogies of the language, but not with
the modern notation of English orthoepists. In such cases it seems
expedient and proper to retain our own usage. To renounce a practice
confessedly regular for one confessedly anomalous, out of respect to
foreign usage, would hardly be consistent with the dignity of
lexicography. When we have principle on our side, let us adhere to it.
The time cannot be distant when the population of this vast country will
throw off their leading-strings, and walk in their own strength; and the
more we can raise the credit and authority of principle over the
caprices of fashion and innovation, the nearer we approach to uniformity
and stability of practice."

The absence of the finer qualities of scholarship in Webster's
composition is indicated by his somewhat rough and ready treatment of
the subject of pronunciation; perhaps no more delicate test exists of
the grain of an educated person's culture than that of pronunciation. It
is far more subtle than orthography or grammar, and pleasure in
conversation, when analyzed, will show this fine sense of sound and
articulation to be the last element.

If any one had asked Webster upon what part of his Dictionary he had
expended the most time and now set the highest value, he would
undoubtedly have answered at once the etymology, and whatever related to
the history and derivation of words. The greater part of the time given
continuously, from 1807 to 1826, to the elaboration of his Dictionary
was spent upon this department; his severest condemnation of Johnson was
upon the score of his ignorance in these particulars, and the credit
which he took to himself was frank and sincere. There can be no doubt
that he worked hard; there can be no doubt, either, that he had his way
to make almost unaided by previous explorers. The science of comparative
philology is of later birth; the English of Webster's day were no better
equipped than he for the task which he undertook, except so far as they
were trained by scholarship to avoid an empirical method. Horne Tooke
was the man who opened Webster's eyes, and him he followed so long as
he followed anybody. But Tooke was a guesser, and Webster, with all his
deficiencies, had always a strong reliance upon system and method. He
made guesses also, but he thought they were scientific analyses, and he
came to the edge of real discoveries without knowing it.

The fundamental weakness of Webster's work in etymology lay in his
reliance upon external likenesses and the limitation of his knowledge to
mere vocabularies. It was not an idle pedantry which made him marshal an
imposing array of words from Oriental languages; he was on the right
track when he sought for a common ground upon which Indo-European
languages could meet, but he lacked that essential knowledge of
grammatical forms, without which a knowledge of the vocabulary is liable
to be misleading. His comparison of languages may be compared to the
earlier labors of students in comparative anatomy who mistook merely
external resemblances for structural homology. It would be idle to
institute any inquiry into the agreement of the 1828 edition with the
latest edition. All of Webster's original work, as he regarded it, has
been swept away, and the etymology reconstructed by Dr. Mahn, of Berlin,
in accordance with a science which did not exist in Webster's day. The
immense labor which Webster expended remains only as a witness to that
indomitable spirit which enabled him to keep steadfastly to his
self-imposed task through years of isolation.

The definitions in Webster's first edition offer an almost endless
opportunity for comment. He found Johnson's definitions wanting in
exactness, and often rather explanations than definitions. For his part
he aimed at a somewhat plainer work. He was under no temptation, as
Johnson was, to use a fine style, but was rather disposed to take
another direction and use an excessive plainness of speech, amplifying
his definition by a reference in detail to the synonymous words. It must
be said, however, that Webster was often unnecessarily rambling in his
account of a word, as when, for instance, under the word _magnanimity_
he writes: "Greatness of mind; that elevation or dignity of soul which
encounters danger and trouble with tranquillity and firmness, which
raises the possessor above revenge, and makes him delight in acts of
benevolence,--which makes him disdain injustice and meanness, and
prompts him to sacrifice personal ease, interest, and safety for the
accomplishment of useful and noble objects;" in the latest Webster the
same terms are used but with a judicious compression. Johnson's account
reads, "Greatness of mind; bravery; elevation of soul." Webster was
disposed also to mingle rather more encyclopædic information with his
definitions than a severer judgment of the limits of a dictionary now
permits. Thus under the word _bishop_, besides illustrative passages, he
gives at length the mode of election in the English Church, and also
that used in the Episcopal Church in America. But this fullness of
description was often a positive addition. Here again a comparison may
be made with Johnson. Under the word _telescope_, Johnson simply says:
"A long glass by which distant objects are viewed." Webster: "An optical
instrument employed in viewing distant objects, as the heavenly bodies.
It assists the eye chiefly in two ways: first, by enlarging the visual
angle under which a distant object is seen, and thus magnifying that
object; and secondly, by collecting and conveying to the eye a larger
beam of light than would enter the naked organ, and thus rendering
objects distinct and visible which would otherwise be indistinct and
invisible. Its essential parts are the _object-glass_, which collects
the beams of light and forms an image of the object, and the _eyeglass_,
which is a microscope by which the image is magnified." The latest
editors have found nothing to change in this definition and nothing to
add, except a long account of the several kinds of telescopes. In the
introduction and the definition of words employed in science Webster was
for the time in advance of Johnson, as the present Webster is far in
advance of the first from the natural increase in the importance and
number of these terms. But Webster did not merely use his advantages; he
had a keener sense than Johnson of the relative weight of such words.
Johnson harbored them as unliterary, but Webster welcomed them as a part
of the growing vocabulary of the people.

Webster claimed to have nearly doubled the number of words given in
Johnson, even after he had excluded a number which found their place in
Johnson. He swelled the list, it is true, by the use of compounds under
_un_ and similar prefixes, but the noticeable fact remains that he
incorporated in the Dictionary a vast number of words which previously
had led a private and secluded life in special word-books. His object
being to make a dictionary for the American people, his ambition was to
produce a book which should render all other books of its class
unnecessary. Webster himself enumerates the words added in his
Dictionary under five heads:--

1. Words of common use, among which he notes: grand-jury, grand-juror,
eulogist, consignee, consignor, mammoth, maltreatment, iceberg,
parachute, malpractice, fracas, entailment, perfectibility, glacier,
fire-warden, safety-valve, savings-bank, gaseous, lithographic,
peninsular, repealable, retaliatory, dyspeptic, missionary, nervine,
meteoric, mineralogical, reimbursable; to quarantine, revolutionize,
retort, patent, explode, electioneer, reorganize, magnetize.

2. Participles of verbs, previously omitted, and often having an
adjective value.

3. Terms of frequent occurrence in historical works, especially those
derived from proper names, such as Shemitic, Augustan, Gregorian.

4. Legal terms.

5. Terms in the arts and sciences. This was then the largest storehouse,
as it has since been, and the reader may be reminded that this great
start in lexicography was coincident with the beginning of modern
scientific research.

The greatest interest, however, which Webster's vocabulary has for us is
in its justification of the title to his Dictionary. It was an American
Dictionary, and no one who examines it attentively can fail to perceive
how unmistakably it grounds itself on American use. Webster had had an
American education; he made his dictionary for the American people, and
as in orthography and pronunciation he followed a usage which was mainly
American, in his words and definitions he knew no authority beyond the
usage of his own country. Webster's Dictionary of 1807 had already
furnished Pickering with a large number of words for his vocabulary of
supposed Americanisms, and Webster had replied, defending the words
against the charge of corruption; the Dictionary of 1828 would have
supplied many more of the same class. The Americanism, as an English
scholar of that day would have judged it, was either in the word itself
or in some special application of it. Webster, like many later writers,
pointed out that words which had their origin in English local use had
here simply become of general service, owing to the freedom of movement
amongst the people and the constant tendency toward uniformity of
speech. The subject has been carefully treated, and it is unnecessary to
consider it here. Enough for us to remember that Webster was not
singling out words as Americanisms, but incorporating in the general
language all these terms, and calling the record of entire product an
American Dictionary of the English Language. The reader may be
entertained by a selection of these words and definitions, taken
somewhat at random from the vast number of undiscriminated words in the
Dictionary, and containing often Webster's rather angry championship.

"Whittle, _v. t._ To pare, or cut off the surface of a thing with a
small knife. Some persons have a habit of _whittling_, and are rarely
seen without a penknife in their hands for that purpose. [_This is, I
believe, the only use of this word in New England._]

"Tackle, _v. t._ To harness; as to tackle a horse into a gig, sleigh,
coach, or wagon. [_A legitimate and common use of the word in America._]
2. To seize; to lay hold of; as, a wrestler tackles his antagonist. This
is a common popular use of the word in New England, though not elegant.
But it retains the primitive idea, to put on, to fall or throw on." The
former of these definitions is followed in the latest Webster by the
brief parentheses [Prov. Eng. Colloq. U. S.].

"Roiling, _ppr._ Rendering turbid; or exciting the passion of anger.
[NOTE: This word is as legitimate as any in the language.]

"Memorialist, _n._ One who writes a memorial. _Spectator._ 2. One who
presents a memorial to a legislative or other body, or to a person. _U.

"Emporium. A place of merchandize; a town or city of trade;
particularly, a city or town of extensive commerce, or in which an
extensive commerce centers, or to which sellers and buyers resort from
different countries: such are London, Amsterdam, and Hamburg. New York
will be an emporium.

"Emptyings, _n._ The lees of beer, cider, etc.

"Fall, _n._ The fall of the leaf; the season when leaves fall from
trees; the autumn.

"Avails, _n._, _plu._ Profits or proceeds. It is used in New England for
the proceeds of goods sold, or for rents, issues, or profits.

"Ball, _n._ An entertainment of dancing; originally and peculiarly at
the invitation and expense of an individual; but the word is used in
America for a dance at the expense of the attendant.

"Beadle. An officer in a university whose chief business is to walk with
a mace, before the masters, in a public procession; or, as in America,
before the president, trustees, faculty, and students of a college in a
procession, at public commencements.

"Commemoration, _n._ The act of calling to remembrance, by some
solemnity; the act of honoring the memory of some person or event, by
solemn celebration. The feast of shells at Plymouth, in Massachusetts,
is an annual commemoration of the first landing of our ancestors in

"Calculate, _v. i._ To make a computation; as, we calculate better for
ourselves than for others. In _popular use_, this word is often
equivalent to _intend_ or _purpose_, that is, to make arrangements and
form a plan; as, a man _calculates_ to go a journey. This use of the
word springs from the practice of _computing_ or _estimating_ the
various circumstances which concur to influence the mind in forming its

"Shaver, _n._ A boy or young man. This word is still in common use in
New England. It must be numbered among our original words.

"Span, _n._ A _span of horses_ consists of two of nearly the same color,
and otherwise nearly alike, which are usually harnessed side by side.
The word signifies properly the same as _yoke_, when applied to horned
cattle, from buckling or fastening together. But in America, _span_
always implies resemblance in color at least; being an object of
ambition with gentlemen and with teamsters to unite two horses abreast
that are alike.

"Likely, _a._ Such as may be liked; pleasing; as a _likely_ man or
woman. [This use of _likely_ is not obsolete as Johnson affirms, nor is
it vulgar. But the English and their descendants in America differ in
the application. The English apply the word to external appearance; and
with them _likely_ is equivalent to _handsome_, _well-formed_, as a
_likely_ man, a _likely_ horse. In America the word is usually applied
to the endowments of the mind, or to pleasing accomplishments. With us a
_likely_ man is a man of good character and talents, or of good
dispositions or accomplishments, that render him pleasing or

"Clever, _a._ In _New England_, good-natured, possessing an agreeable
mind or disposition. In _Great Britain_ this word is applied to the body
or its movements, in its literal sense; in _America_ it is applied
chiefly to the mind, temper, disposition. In Great Britain a _clever
man_ is a dextrous man, one who performs an act with skill or address.
In New England a _clever man_ is a man of a pleasing, obliging
disposition and amiable manners, but often implying a moderate share of

"Raise, _v. t._ To cause to grow; to procure to be produced, bred or
propagated; as, to raise wheat, barley, hops, etc.; to _raise_ horses,
oxen, or sheep. _New England_. [The English now use _grow_ in regard to
crops; as, to _grow_ wheat. This verb intransitive has never been used
in New England in a transitive sense, until recently some persons have
adopted it from the English books. We always use _raise_, but in New
England it is never applied to the breeding of the human race, as it is
in the Southern States.]

"Realize, _v. t._ To bring into actual existence and possession; to
render tangible or effective. He never _realized_ much profit from his
trade or speculation.

"Locate, _v. t._, 2. To select, survey, and settle the bounds of a
particular tract of land; or to designate a portion of land by limits;
as, to _locate_ a tract of a hundred acres in a particular township. _U.
States._ 3. To designate and determine the place of; as, a committee was
appointed to _locate_ a church or a court-house. _N. England._

"Rail, _n._, 1. A cross beam fixed at the ends in two upright posts.
_Moxon_. [In New England this is never called a _beam_; pieces of timber
of the proper size for rails are called _scantling_.] 2. In the _United
States_ a piece of timber cleft, hewed, or sawed, rough or smooth,
inserted in upright posts for fencing. The common _rails_ among farmers
are rough, being used as they are split from the chestnut or other
trees. The _rails_ used in fences of boards or pickets round gentlemen's
houses and gardens are usually sawed scantling, and often dressed with
the plane. 4. A series of posts connected with cross beams, by which a
place is inclosed. _Johnson._ In New England we never call this series a
_rail_, but by the general term _railing_. In a picket fence, the pales
or pickets rise above the rails; in a ballustrade, or fence resembling
it, the ballusters usually terminate in the rails.

"Tallow, _n._ A sort of animal fat, particularly that which is obtained
from animals of the sheep and ox kinds.... The fat of swine we never
call _tallow_, but _lard_ or _suet_. I see in English books, mention is
made of the tallow of hogs, but in America I never heard the word thus

"Prairy, _n._ [Fr. _prairie_.] An extensive tract of land, mostly level,
destitute of trees, and covered with tall, coarse grass. These
_prairies_ are numerous in the United States, west of the Alleghany
Mountains, especially between the Ohio, Mississippi, and the great

"Widen, _v. t._ To make wide or wider; to extend in breadth; as, to
_widen_ a field; to _widen_ a breach. [Note. In America, females say, to
_widen_ a stocking.]

"Window, _n._ An opening in the wall of a building for the admission of
light, and of air when necessary. This opening has a frame on the sides,
in which are set movable sashes, containing panes of glass. In the U.
States the sashes are made to rise and fall, for the admission or
exclusion of air. In France _windows_ are shut with frames or sashes
that open and shut vertically, like the leaves of a folding door.

"Chore, _n._ [Eng. _char._] In America this word denotes small work of a
domestic kind, as distinguished from the principal work of the day. It
is generally used in the plural, _chores_, which includes the daily or
occasional business of feeding cattle and other animals, preparing fuel,
sweeping the house, cleaning furniture, etc. (See char.)"

       *       *       *       *       *

From these examples one may gather some notion of Webster's method of
treating words which were either exclusively American, or had undergone
some change in meaning and use. He regards them all not as departures
from the English standard of the day, but diversities from an older use,
like the English current forms, and it was no disgrace in his eyes for a
word to be an Americanism, nor did it require apology or defense of any
kind. There are indeed many words not to be found in Johnson, of
American origin, or at least of American adoption, which he enters
silently with the belief that they have quite as fair a claim to a place
in his Dictionary as if they had been used by Dryden or Addison. I have
already quoted the passage in his preface relating to the illustrative
quotations; the promise made by Webster is faithfully kept, and the
diligent reader may garner many of the brief thoughts of Mason, Smith,
Barlow, and other American writers whose light has now faded.

By all these means, by a certain contempt of Great Britain, by constant
reference to American usage, by citations from American authors, Webster
made the title to his Dictionary good in every part of it, while by the
exercise of individual caprice and of a personal authority, which had
grown out of his long-continued and solitary labor, he attached his own
name to it. Both names remain. The existing Dictionary is "An American
Dictionary of the English Language," and bears indubitable evidence of
its application to American use, but it is no longer the organ of an
over-zealous patriotism. It bears Noah Webster's name on the title-page,
but the work has been revised, not out of all likeness to its original
form, but with a fullness and precision which, being impossible to any
one man, required the coöperation of a company of scholars. His original
Preface to the edition of 1828 has been preserved as a memento of his
attitude in the presence of his great work, but his Introduction and
Advertisement and Grammar of the English Language have been swept away,
and their place supplied by the maturer and more scholarly work of
Webster's successors.

It has been said by some nice critic, anxious to be just before he was
generous, that the book commonly known as Webster's Dictionary,
sometimes, with a ponderous familiarity, as The Unabridged, should more
properly be called The Webster Dictionary, as indicating the fact that
the original private enterprise had, as it were, been transformed into a
joint stock company, which might, out of courtesy, take the name of the
once founder but now merely honorary member of the literary firm engaged
in the manufacture and arrangement of words. Indeed, the name Webster
has been associated with such a vast number of dictionaries of all sizes
and weights, that it has become to many a most impersonal term, and we
may almost expect in a few generations to find the word "Webster"
defined in some revised edition of the Unabridged as the colloquial word
for a Dictionary. The bright-eyed, bird-like looking gentleman who faces
the title-page of his Dictionary may be undergoing some metempsychosis,
but the student of American literature will at any time have little
difficulty in rescuing his personality from unseemly transmigration,
and, by the aid of historical glasses, may discover that the Dictionary
maker, far from being either the arid, bloodless being which his work
supposes, or the reckless disturber of philological peace which his
enemies aver, was an exceedingly vigilant, determined American
school-master, who had enormous faith in his country, and an uncommon
self-reliance, by which he undertook single-handed a task which, once
done, prepared the way for lexigraphical work far more thorough and
satisfactory than could have been possible without his pioneer labor.
Not only have the successive Dictionaries which bear his name resulted
from his labor, but it is not unfair to refer the other great lexicon
begun and carried out by one of his early assistants to the impetus
which he gave. Indeed, the commercial success of the great American
Dictionary may reasonably have been taken as a ground of confidence for
the production of the corresponding works of an encyclopædic and
dictionary character which attest the enterprise of American publishers
and the thoroughness of American scholars.



The publication of "An American Dictionary" in 1828 was followed by
increased activity on Dr. Webster's part. He was more than ever
ambitious to secure a standard, especially in orthography, and he began
the arrangement of his various text-books in a series which should
constitute an imposing phalanx, each supporting its neighbor. The work
of preparation, revision, and publication occupied the rest of his life.
The quarto Dictionary in two volumes cost twenty dollars. He provided
soon an abridgment in octavo, and a "Dictionary for Schools, the
Counting-House, and for Families in Moderate Circumstances;" he was
constantly revising his most lucrative book, the "Elementary
Spelling-Book," and he issued new editions of his "History of the United
States," his "Teacher," a supplement to the "Elementary," his "Improved
Grammar," and he prepared a "Manual of Useful Studies." All of these
books had friends and enemies, and one of the most energetic of the
latter, Lyman Cobb, published "a Critical Review of the Orthography of
Dr. Webster's Series of Books for Systematick Instruction in the English
Language," which, in spite of some injustice and much quibbling, is a
most searching and exhaustive commentary on Webster's weaknesses. The
contest over Webster's Dictionary, however, did not assume great
proportions until after the publication of Worcester's Dictionary, which
afforded Webster's opponents a flag about which they could rally. The
war of the dictionaries occurred after Webster's death, and it is not
within the province of this sketch to enter upon that military campaign.
Within Webster's own life-time a revision of the Dictionary appeared in
1840-1841, and he was at work upon a further revision when he died in

Our study of Webster has easily led us away from Webster's personal
history, except so far as this has illustrated social, literary, and
historical movements. There are still living those who, as young men,
were associated with him in New Haven, and these with his grandchildren,
as well as his only surviving daughter, bear a memory of his person
entirely distinct from its public reputation. The resolute old man,
working at his lexicography to the last moment, was for them also the
tender-hearted head of a family, coming out from his study to hear the
music he loved so well, joining in the home life, making affectionate
pilgrimages to the old homestead in West Hartford, and putting in a plea
there for the preservation of the old fruit trees and vines which dated
from his childhood. He was a sturdy, upright man, with the courtesy of
an old Federalist, and his figure was a familiar one in the streets of
New Haven. It was there that he died, May 28, 1843, in the eighty-fifth
year of his age, surrounded by his family, and cheerful with the sense
of a full life and of Christian trust and expectation.

Noah Webster's name abides, connected with the great work which he
initiated, and the monument will keep his name imperishable. It never
can be an uninteresting study to the people how the man, whose name is
a household word, wrought and achieved; the solid expression of
character, which I have tried to outline, is worthy of a fuller, more
thorough treatment; and it is to be hoped that the sturdy life of more
than three score years and ten, which he lived, with its dreams, its
discoveries, its ventures, its toil, and its honest achievements may
some day be told with all the minuteness which records, researches, and
reminiscences will permit. Yet I do not believe the fullest account of
Webster would disclose any important traits not discovered by the
exhibition of such of his writings and labors as we have included in
this survey. There was nothing concealed in his nature. His vanity made
him open, and his strong self-reliance gave him a boldness of expression
which makes it possible for any student to measure his aims.

The chief discovery yet to be made of Webster, if any is possible, lies
in the direction of history. I do not suppose that if the entire
correspondence of Webster with his contemporaries could be produced, we
should find him any more potent as a public man than we have seen him to
be; but a more thorough comprehension of the forces at work in the
organization of national life may yet enable us to see with greater
distinctness the degree of Webster's power and function. The last result
of historical study is the determination of national genius, and for
that time and the slow evolution of national character are requisite. I
am sure that the dignity of Webster's position in our history is more
intelligible to-day than it was in his own time. I am confident that the
twentieth century will give him a juster meed than we are giving him

It was at once his fortune and his misfortune to pass his life
contemporaneously with the birth and adolescence of a great nation, and
to feel the passion of the hour. There is unquestionably a parochial
sort of nationality which it is easy to satirize. No one could well set
it out in stronger light than Webster himself in those passages in the
preface to his Dictionary which I have already quoted. He is judiciously
silent concerning the American poets of his time, being careful,
even,--most unkindest cut!--not to commit himself to the support of
Joel Barlow's heroic verse; but he produces a list of American
prosaists, whom he places back to back with their English fellows. He
has a proper sense of the importance of language to a nation, and
appears to be perplexed by the implied question: If Englishmen and
Americans speak the same language, how in the world are we to tell them
apart and keep them apart? Then again, since there has been a revolution
resulting in governmental independence, what stands in the way of a
complete independence, so that the spick and span new nation may go to
the language tailors and be dressed in a new suit of parts of speech?
"Let us seize the present moment," he cries, "and establish a national
language as well as a national government." Never was there such a
chance, he thinks, for clearing away the rubbish which has accumulated
for generations in our clumsy, inelegant language. Hand him the Bible
which people have foolishly regarded as a great conservator of the
English tongue, and he will give you a new edition "purified from the
numerous errors." Knock off the useless appendages to words which serve
only to muffle simple sounds. Innocent iconoclast, with his
school-master ferrule!

It is worth our while to make serious answer to these serious
propositions, since the true aspect of native literature may thus be
disclosed. The Revolution, which so filled Webster's eyes, was
unquestionably a great historic event by reason of its connection with
the formal institution of a new nation; but the roots of our national
life were not then planted. They run back to the first settlements and
the first charters and agreements; nor is the genesis of the nation to
be found there; sharp as are the beginnings of our history on this
continent, no student could content himself with a conception of our
national life which took into account only the events and conditions
determined by the people and the soil of America. Even in actual
relations between America and Europe there never has been a time when
the Atlantic has not had an ebbing as well as a flowing tide, and the
instinct which now sends us to the Old World on passionate pilgrimages
is a constituent part of our national life, and not an unfilial
sentiment. In the minds of Webster and many others, England was an
unnatural parent, and the spirit of anger, together with an elation at
success in the severing of governmental ties, made them impatient of
even a spiritual connection. But the Revolution was an outward, visible
sign of an organic growth which it accelerated, but did not produce; and
the patriotic outcries of the generation were incoherent expressions of
a profounder life which had been growing, scarcely heeded, until wakened
by this event. The centripetal force of nationality was at work, and it
is possible now, even from our near station, to discover the conjunction
of outward circumstance and inward consciousness which marks nationality
as an established fact. It was a weak conception of nationality which
was bounded by Webster's definition; but his belief in his country and
his energetic action were, in reality, constantly overpassing that
conception. In spite of the disposition to regard a written constitution
as the bottom fact, there was the real, substantial, organic nation, and
that saved the paper nation from erasure,--a fate which easily overtakes
South American republics. A nation which could immediately be placed in
the world's museum, duly ticketed and catalogued, with its distinct
manners, dress, language, and literature,--this was a conception which
resulted logically from theories which held the nation itself to be the
creation of popular will or historic accident; but a nation slowly
struggling against untoward outward circumstance and inward dissension,
collecting by degrees its constituent members, forming and reforming,
plunging with rude strength down dangerous ways, but nevertheless
growing into integral unity,--this has been the historical result of the
living forces which were immanent in the country when the nation was
formally instituted.

Now there never has been a time from Webster's day to this when
Americans have not believed and asserted that nationality consisted
mainly in independence, and waxed impatient not merely of foreign
control and influence, but even of hereditary influence: the temper
which calls for American characteristics in art and literature is often
scarcely less hostile to the past of American history than to the
present of European civilization. It is a restless, uneasy spirit,
goaded by self-consciousness. It finds in nature an aid and abettor; it
grows angry at the disproportionate place which the Cephissus, the Arno,
the Seine, the Rhine, and the Thames hold on the map of the world's
passion. We are all acquainted with the typical American who added to
his name in the hotel book on the shores of Lake Como, "What pygmy
puddles these are to the inland seas of tremendous and eternal America!"
But these are coarser, more palpable signs of that uneasy consciousness
which frets at a continued dependence on European culture.

There is no doubt that Webster was right when he set himself the task of
Americanizing the English language by a recourse to the Spelling-Book.
He succeeded very largely in determining the form of words; but he did
more than this, while he failed in the ambitious and preposterous task
which he set himself. He did more; by his shrewdness and his ready
perception of the popular need he made elementary education possible at
once, and furnished the American people with a key which moved easily in
the lock; he failed where he sought the most, because language is not a
toy or a patent machine, which can be broken, thrown aside at will, and
replaced with a better tool, ready-made from the lexicographer's shop.
He had no conception of the enormous weight of the English language and
literature, when he undertook to shovel it out of the path of American
civilization. The stars in their courses fought against him. It is so
still. We cannot dispense with European culture, because we refuse to
separate ourselves from the mighty past, which has settled there in
forms of human life unrepresented among us. We cannot step out of the
world's current, though it looks sluggish beside our rushing stream,
because there is a spiritual demand in us which cries louder than the
thin voice of a self-conscious national life. This demand is profoundly
at one with the deeper, holier sense of national being which does not
strut upon the world's stage. The humility of a great nation is in its
reverence for its own past, and, since that is incomplete, in its
admiration for whatever is noble and worthy in other nations. It is out
of this reverence and humility and this self-respect that great works
in literature and art grow, and not out of the overweening sensitiveness
which makes one's nationality but a petty jealousy of other people.

It is possible for us thus to discriminate between a nationality which
is a mere posture and that which is a plain expression of positive
organic life. When we measure the force of the latter we are compelled
to a finer analysis, and its illustrations are to be sought in subtler
manifestations. Webster well exemplifies, by the very rudeness of his
mind, phases of Americanism which may be traced in more delicate lines
elsewhere. There can be no doubt that self-reliance, which was both the
cause and the effect of local self-government long practiced, has been a
powerful factor in American life; that an indifference to the past has
often been only the obverse of an elastic hope, a consciousness of
destiny; that a fearlessness and a spirit of adventure have been invited
by the large promises held out by nature; that an expansiveness of mind,
and an alertness and facility in intellectual device, have been
encouraged by the flexile condition of American society. All things
have seemed possible to the ardent American, and each has secretly said
to himself:--

  "I ... had resolved to be
  The maker of my destiny."

These elements of character have entered into literature, the exponent
of character; and Webster, with his self-reliance, his indifference to
the past, his consciousness of destiny, his courage and resolution and
quick fitting into his country's work, stands easily as the first
aggressive American in our literature. In him we see roughly marked what
future critics will discern of men more readily assigned a place in
universal literature. The Americanism of Hawthorne, for example, differs
from that of Webster in quality rather than in essence. They were both
content with America and New England. Hawthorne, with his shrug at old
buildings and his wish that all over two hundred years of age should be
burnt down, was repeating Webster's contempt of the musty halls of
collegiate Cambridge; and Hawthorne, Yankeeizing the Greek myths, and
finding all Rome but the background for his Puritan maiden, was
asserting that new discovery of Europe by America which has ever since
been going on, and was illustrated by Webster's excursions in language
to bring back English variations from American usage.

The ease with which Webster walked about the Jericho of English
lexicography, blowing his trumpet of destruction, was an American ease,
born of a sense that America was a continent and not a province. He
transferred the capital of literature from London to Boston, or New
York, or Hartford,--he was indifferent so long as it was in the United
States. He thought Washington as good an authority on spelling as Dr.
Johnson, and much better than King George. He took the Bible as a book
to be used, not as a piece of antiquity to be sheltered in a museum, and
with an American practicality set about making it more serviceable in
his own way. He foresaw the vast crowds of American children; he knew
that the integrity of the country was conditioned on the intelligibility
of their votes, and he turned his back on England less with indifference
to her than with an absorption in his own country. He made a Speller
which has sown votes and muskets; he made alone a Dictionary, which has
grown, under the impulse he gave it, into a national encyclopædia,
possessing an irresistible momentum. Indeed, is not the very existence
of that book in its current form a witness to the same Americanism which
Webster displayed, only now in a firmer, finer, and more complex form?

In the high walks of scholarship, where nationality would seem to be
effaced, we have had very recently a capital illustration of the
inevitable tendency of national traits to seek expression. The Appendix
to the "Revised Version of the New Testament" contains the variations
proposed by the American company from the text as otherwise determined.
There were in the English company men of radical temperament and of
conservative; there were in the American company like distinctions;
nevertheless the final separation between the two companies is largely
on this line, and one can easily see how much sympathy, Webster, for
example, would have expressed with the position which the American
company took, a position not of dissent but of independent assertion.

The separation between England and America which was so effectual in
Webster's conception, and thus determined much of his thought, was
really incipient and not complete. The two countries are more widely
separate to-day than they were then, while the outward signs of
separation are in many ways less conspicuous. The forces of national
life have been diverging, and the resultant in character and literature
is more sure and ineffaceable.

It should be observed that the individualism which characterizes
American life was more marked in the first years of the republic than it
is now. After we have reasoned away all we will of a revolutionary
cataclysmal element in the separation of the United States from the
British Empire, there still remains a sharp determination of individual
life, historically evident, and very influential in the formation of
national character. In the earliest years the centripetal force for
union was barely superior to the centrifugal force for state
independence; but the political thought which justified state
sovereignty had its logical issue in an isolated individuality. Common
sense and prudence, to be sure, are always defeating logic; but the
logical conception helps us to understand tendencies, and it is not
difficult to see that the word independence, which was on every one's
lips at the close of the last century, was not the sign of a political
thought only, but expressed the habit of mind with which persons
everywhere regarded life in its varied relations. The breaking up of old
political connections not only unsettled the social fabric, it affected
necessarily all the relations which the person held to society; and it
was only as a profounder political unity disclosed itself in the nation
that each man put forth more confidently his hand to his fellow. The
historian of the Union will not fail to observe how with the growth of
that Union there began to spring up societies and corporations of every
kind, the interdependence of the States extending itself to the
interdependence of all interests involved in the State, and the whole
fabric of society feeling its web and woof grow firmer and denser.

The career of Webster illustrates this truth. He worked alone, and his
solitariness was not wholly due to his idiosyncrasies. It was in part
the penalty paid by a student of the time. The resolution and
self-reliance of an American were his, and so was the individuality.
That such enterprises are not now conducted single-handed is owing not
to a lack of courage but to the greater complexity of life, the more
constant sense of interdependence, the existence of greater solidarity
in intellectual pursuits. Webster was unable to believe that a company
of scholars could ever be formed who should carry forward a revision of
the Bible, and therefore he made the attempt himself. Individual
criticism has been abundant ever since, but no one, however learned or
popular, has ever been able to impress his work upon the community. The
most carefully organized body of scholars submits the results of its ten
years' conference to the votes of the world. The history of Webster's
Dictionary is parallel with the growth of national life out of


  Adams, John and Abigail, letters of, compared with those of John and
    Margaret Winthrop, 49.

  Adams, J. Q., 22.

  Adams, Samuel,
    a pet aversion of the Hartford wits, 99, 100.

  "Address to the President of the United States, on the subject
  of his Address," by N. W., 144.

  Advertisement of school at Sharon, 10.

  Agricultural life as determining social conditions, 13;
    its comprehensive character in New England, 14.

  Alexandrian Library, N. W.'s views on its destruction, 4.

  Almanac, the, as light literature, 24.

  America, condition of literature in, in 1800, 105, 110.

  American, an average, as drawn by N. W., 150.

  "American Dictionary of the English language, An," first promised, 235;
    published, 236;
    the earlier and later editions compared, as to orthography, 245-254;
    as to pronunciation, 255-257;
    as to etymology, 258, 259;
    as to definitions, 260;
    as to vocabulary, 261-263;
    its Americanism, 264-274;
    N. W.'s property in the present edition, 275.

  Americanism, appeal to, 45;
    in politics, 147;
    in national morals, 163;
    in literature, 241;
    N. W.'s estimate of it, 282;
    of what it consists, 283-292.

  "American Magazine, The," character of, 77;
    established by N. W., 78.

  "American Spelling Book," by N. W., 38;
    cautions in, 39;
    first publication of, 69;
    contracts concerning, 70;
    sales of, 71;
    Timothy Pickering on, 72;
    the Macon issue, 74.

  Ames's Almanac, 25, 26.

  Amherst, N. W.'s removal to, 186.

  Andrus, Mr., who wrote a dialogue, 48.

  Barlow, Joel, N. W.'s classmate, 4;
    a classic author, 48;
    memorializes Congress on copyright laws, 50;
    his poetry lightly esteemed by N. W., 281.

  Beers, Isaac, entertains Washington, 6.

  Belknap, Jeremy, difficulties of, in securing publication of his
    history, 69;
    measures taken for same, 75;
    his opinion of N. W., 79;
    his dealings with him, 80-94.

  Bible, N. W.'s edition of, 168-181.

  "Boston Argus" mocked, 100.

  Boston, literary resources in, 22.

  Boy that stole Apples, The, 40.

  Bradford, William, an ancestor of N. W.'s, 3.

  Buckminster, Tutor, 5.

  Bushnell, Horace, upon Sunday in his boyhood, 31;
    on grasping the handle of one's being, 182.

  Cabinet, relative importance of officers in, 136.

  Cambridge, England, N. W.'s dispassionate opinion of, 238.

  Canfield, John, 54.

  Cicero against Verres, 48.

  Citizens, training of, in New England, 19.

  Clark, L. Gaylord, letter to, from N. W., 112.

  Classic writers, respect felt for, in New England, 147.

  Clergyman, the position of the, in New England society, 16;
    his prominence among college graduates, 17;
    his ideal character, 31.

  "Collection of Essays and Fugitiv writings on Moral, Historical,
  Political, and Literary subjects, A," 187.

  "Columbian, The," an early magazine of short life, 80, 81, 82, 88.

  "Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, A," 216.

  Congress, on copyright laws, 55, 56, 62-67.

  Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 161.

  Connecticut, legislature of, in connection with copyright laws, 56;
    discontents in, written about by N. W., 112.

  Connecticut Valley, the, a strong-hold of Puritanism, 12.

  Constitution, origin of the, 116;
    an examination of its leading principles, 129.

  Copyright laws, origin of, 52;
    N. W.'s efforts in securing, 53-56;
    letter to D. Webster on, 57-61;
    reply by D. W., on, 61, 62;
    petition by authors for, 63;
    movements in Congress concerning, 62-67;
    their connection with N. W.'s writings, 67, 68.

  "Courant, The Connecticut," started in Hartford, 1764, 24;
    N. W. writes for it under signature of Candor, 130.

  Curtius, a signature of N. W., 137.

  Definitions in N. W.'s Dictionary, 260.

  Delaware legislature in connection with copyright laws, 56.

  Dictionary, Encyclopædic character of the, introduced by N. W., 216, 217.

  Dilworth, Thomas, and his New Guide, 34;
    compared with N. W. and his Spelling-Book, 36, 87.

  Doctor, the, in New England life, 17;
    of the Indian school, 18.

  Dwight, Timothy, 55.

  Dyche and Pardon's Dictionary, 216.

  East Windsor, at convenient distance from Hartford, 11.

  "Echo, The," 98-104.

  "Effects of Slavery on Morals and Industry, On the," by N. W., 139.

  "Elementary," N. W.'s, 34.

  Ellsworth, Oliver, N. W. lives in the family of, 9.

  Epidemic Diseases, N. W.'s Treatise on, 105.

  "Errors in Johnson's Dictionary and other Lexicons," by N. W., 219.

  "Essay on the Rights of Neutral Nations," by N. W., 142.

  Etymology, N. W.'s studies in, 258.

  Everett, Edward, lends George Ticknor Meidinger's Grammar, 21.

  "Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution,
  An," 129.

  Federal Catechism, A, 39.

  Federalism, N. W.'s, 46, 113.

  Fowler, William Chauncey, quoted, 28-30.

  Fox and the Swallow, The, illustration to, 41.

  France in American politics, 131.

  Franklin, Benjamin, N. W. compared with, 152, 160;
    views of, on spelling reform, 190.

  French Revolution, The, 131, 133.

  Freneau, Philip, 48, 133.

  Genet, Citizen, 130, 131, 132.

  Gibbon repeated in N. W., 239.

  Glastonbury, temporary seat of a section of Yale College, 7;
    school at, taught by N. W., 8.

  Goodrich, Chauncey, on N. W.'s mental habits, 215.

  Goodrich, S. G., describes N. W., 237

  Goshen, N. W. conceives his Spelling-Book at, 33;
    Spelling-Book revised at, 54.

  Goths and Vandals disapproved of in New England, 5.

  Grammar, N. W.'s, 41.

  "Grammatical Institute, A." N. W.'s earliest work, 34;
    compared with Dilworth's New Guide, 35, 37;
    meant for the farmers' children, 38;
    second part of, a grammar, 41;
    third part of, a reader, 46; 182, 183.

  Greenleaf, Rebecca, N. W.'s wife, 96.

  Hamilton, Alexander, 114;
    compared with N. W., 115;
    his connection with the French difficulties, 132;
    what Jefferson thought of him, 137.

  Harrison, Governor, of Virginia, 56.

  Hartford, 1;
    N. W. teaches school at, 9;
    a village only, 13;
    North Church in, 48.

  Hartford Convention, N. W.'s part in, 146.

  Hartford Wits, The, 97, 104.

  Hawthorne, Nathaniel, and N. W. compared, 289.

  Hazard, Ebenezer, 68, 75;
    his opinion of N. W., 79;
    dealings with him, as brought out in correspondence with Belknap,
  80, 94.

  Hillard, George Stillman, quoted, 22.

  "History of New Hampshire," Belknap's, 69, 75, 76.

  "History of the United States," by N. W., 277.

  Holst, H. Von, quoted, 116.

  Ingersoll, Mr., representative from Connecticut, 62.

  Izard, Ralph, 55.

  Jackson, Andrew, election of, 145.

  Jay's Treaty defended by N. W., 137, 143.

  Jefferson, Thomas, 119, 132;
    his opinion of N. W.'s anonymous work, 137;
    his address attacked by N. W., 144.

  Johnson, Samuel, the Magnus Apollo of Lexicographers, 218;
    criticised by N. W., 219-225;
    N. W.'s preface compared with S. J.'s, 242;
    his Dictionary and N. W.'s compared, 246, 260-263, 273.

  Jonas, Mr. Jacob Abbott's, a type, 14.

  Kent, Chancellor, 137.

  King, Rufus, 137, 138.

  Language, a national, 202.

  Lawyers in Connecticut, 18.

  Lee, Charles, 6.

  "Letter on the Value and importance of the American Commerce of Great
    Britain, addressed to a Gentleman of Distinction in London, A," by
    N. W., 142.

  "Letter to the Governors," N. W.'s, quoted, 44.

  Litchfield, N. W. reads law at, 9.

  Livingston, Governor, of New Jersey, on copyright laws, 53, 83.

  Lodge, H. C., quoted, 137.

  Lord's Almanac, 25.

  Lowth's "Short Introduction to the English Grammar," 41.

  Lyman, Joseph, and the Hartford Convention, 146.

  McFingal, Trumbull's, 102.

  Madison, James, 55;
    his correspondence with N. W., 114;
    his connection with the French party, 132.

  Mahn, Dr., 260.

  Mansfield, Lord, on copyright laws, 61.

  "Manual of Useful Studies" by N. W., 278.

  Massachusetts legislature in connection with copyright laws, 55.

  Massachusetts Magazine, The, 89.

  Mein, John, and his bookstore, 22.

  Mile stones and bridges, requiring toll from belles, 11.

  Military life in New England, 20.

  Miller, Ashur, N. W.'s class-mate, 4.

  Miller v. Taylor, case of, 6.

  "Minerva, American," N. W.'s paper, 130;
    amount of work done on it by N. W., 142.

  Mirabeau, quoted by N. W. 47.

  Monarch, The, a title given to N. W. by two of his contemporaries, 79, 115.

  Neutrals, N. W. on, 142-144.

  New England in its educative influences, 12.

  New England Primer, The, as a work of art, 40.

  New Haven, visited by Washington and Lee, 6.

  New Jersey in connection with copyright laws, 53, 55.

  New Rochelle, 12.

  Newspaper, the, in N. W.'s youth, 24;
    its condition when he engaged in it, 111.

  "New York Commercial Advertiser," 130.

  New York legislature in connection with copyright laws, 54.

  Orthography, N. W.'s supposed innovations in, 245-254.

  Otis, Harrison Gray, 146.

  Pardee, Rebecca, a friend of N. W., 11.

  "Peculiar Doctrines of the Gospel explained and defended, The," by
     N. W., 167.

  Perkins, Nathan, N. W.'s teacher, 4;
    what books he found at Yale College Library, 23.

  Pickering, John, is to be instructed in N. W.'s speller, 73;
    later in life, appears as a critic of N. W., 225;
    goes to him for Americanisms, 264.

  Pickering, Timothy, sits up late at night to read N. W.'s
    Spelling-Book, 72.

  "Porsenna in pursuit of the Kingdom of Felicity," 25.

  Priestley, Joseph, lectures the young America, 104;
    and draws down upon himself a letter by N. W., 105.

  Princeton, N. J., visit to, by N. W., 53.

  "Prompter, The," by N. W., 153;
    extracts from, 154-160.

  Pronunciation, in different parts of the United States, 209;
    N. W.'s treatment of in his Dictionary, 255-257.

  Quincy, Josiah, letter to, by N. W., 185.

  Ramsay, Dr., draws down N. W.'s criticism of Johnson, 219.

  "Remarks on the Manners, Government, and Debt of the United States,"
    by N. W., 163, 202.

  Revision Committee's work and N. W.'s compared, 173, 175, 176, 181;
    the American company and N. W., 291.

  Revolution, The, and its connection with American history, 283, 284.

  Roman precedents, 49.

  Rousseau, 119.

  Rowan, Mr., 66.

  Sabbath, the, as the shrine of Puritanism, 30.

  Sabbath-Day Houses, 27;
    description of, by W. C. Fowler, 28-30.

  Savage, James, and his sarcastic remarks on N. W., 95.

  School-teaching by N. W., at Glastonbury, 8;
    at Hartford, 9;
    at Sharon, 10;
    at Goshen, 33.

  Schuyler, Philip, 55.

  Sharon, N. W. teaches school at, 9;
    advertisement of school there, 10.

  "Sketches of American Policy," 113;
    N. W.'s publication of, 115;
    a specimen of political thought, 119;
    analyzed, 120-126.

  Slavery, N. W. on, 139.

  Sleighing parties, 11.

  Smith, Samuel Stanhope, examines N. W.'s manuscript, 53.

  Smith, Zephaniah, N. W.'s classmate, 4.

  South, literature at the, in the War of 1861-1865, 74.

  Spelling-reform, hints of by N. W., 40;
    his pioneer efforts at, 187;
    his formal views on, 192-202.

  Stiles, Ezra, President of Yale College, 4;
    his impressive scholarship, 5.

  Strong, Jedediah, 9.

  Sunday, observance of, in New England, 27, 31.

  Tetard, M., N. W.'s French teacher, 12.

  Thomas, Isaiah, 89.

  Ticknor, George, quoted, upon the difficulties in the way of a
    student, 21.

  "Times, The," a series of papers by N. W., 134.

  Tooke, Horne, N. W.'s teacher in grammar, 43;
    in derivations, 258.

  Trumbull, Governor, of Connecticut, 95.

  Trumbull, John, on N. W.'s prospects, 97.

  Unabridged, The, 275.

  Union, The, and its connection with social and individual life, 293.

  Verplanck, Mr., 63, 66.

  Washington, George, passes through New Haven, 5;
    is escorted by N. W., 6;
    his virtues commemorated in a spelling-book, 39;
    Mirabeau, conscious of his own defects, wishes children early taught
    the name of, 47;
    visited by N. W., 56;
    defended by N. W. against the Republicans, 131;
    his connection with the French difficulties, 132.

  Waterston, R. C., 184.

  Watson, James, 130.

  Webster, Daniel, letter to, from N. W., 57;
    his part in passing copyright law, 66.

  Webster, Mercy, 3.

  Webster, Noah, born, 2;
    his ancestry, 3;
    his early education, 4;
    at Yale College, 4;
    escorts Washington and Lee through New Haven, 6;
    serves as private in the Revolutionary Army, 7;
    graduates and takes up school-teaching, 8;
    studies law and teaches in Hartford, 9;
    is admitted to the bar, 9;
    resumes teaching at Sharon, 9;
    has a tender regard for R. P., 11;
    goes on sleighing parties, 11;
    the influences about his youth, 13-32;
    enters upon the making of school-books, 33;
    his Grammatical Institute, 34;
    his portrait, 35;
    his aim in his early writings, 38;
    his hints at orthographic reform, 40;
    his early conversion in the matter of grammars, 42;
    issues a new grammar, 43;
    his views on usage, 44;
    appeals to the pride of his countrymen, 45;
    his Federalism, 46;
    his attention to the political interests of America in his
    reading-book, 47;
    not a mere Anglo-phobian, 50;
    his weakness and strength, 51;
    sets out to secure copyright laws, 52;
    makes a journey to Southern States, 56;
    writes a letter to Daniel Webster on copyright laws, 57-61;
    his publication of his Spelling-Book, 69;
    his contracts with book-sellers, 70;
    his venture in the American Magazine, 78;
    his magazine projects, 80-93;
    his enterprise, 94;
    his publication of Winthrop's Journal, 95;
    marries Rebecca Greenleaf, 96;
    is outside of the Hartford Wits, 97;
    writes a letter to Priestley, 104;
    contributes to the "Connecticut Courant," 111;
    publishes a pamphlet entitled "Sketches of American Policy," 113;
    the product of certain forces, 118;
    goes to Philadelphia at Franklin's request, 128;
    writes "An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal
    Constitution," 129;
    editor of "The Minerva," 130;
    his defense of the administration, 133;
    discusses the French Revolution, 134;
    writes "The Times," 134;
    publishes a pamphlet on the French Revolution, 136;
    defends Jay's Treaty, 137;
    mistaken for Hamilton by Jefferson, 138;
    his editorial skill, 138;
    what he thought of slavery, 139;
    closes his connection with "The Minerva," 142;
    publishes further political works, 142;
    his attack on Jefferson, 144;
    at the polls, 145;
    is concerned in the Hartford Convention, 146;
    the ephemeral character of his political writings, 148;
    his general average, 151;
    his likeness to Franklin, 152;
    writes "The Prompter," 153;
    his interest in the people, 161;
    his taste for statistics, 162;
    his theological writings, 167;
    his revision of the Bible, 168-181;
    is discouraged about his prospects, 184;
    his pecuniary resources, 186;
    his pioneer efforts in spelling reform, 187;
    his sympathy with Franklin, 190;
    his formal views on spelling reform, 192-202;
    his doctrine of usage, 208;
    his varied method of disseminating his views, 213;
    his mental habits, 215;
    his Compendious Dictionary, 216;
    introduces new features, 217;
    criticises Dr. Johnson, 219-225;
    replies to J. Pickering, 226-232;
    the improvement in his style, 233;
    his announcement of his great work, 235;
    his labor upon it, 236;
    visits Europe, 237;
    completes his work with Gibbonian emotion, 238;
    his individuality, 275;
    his proprietorship in the present edition of the Dictionary, 276;
    his industry after publication of the first edition, 277;
    his personal appearance, family life, and death, 278, 279;
    his place in history, 280;
    what he attempted, 282;
    and what he did, 286;
    a representative American, 289;
    his career illustrative of the individuality resident in early national
    life, 294.

  Webster, Noah, Sr., a Connecticut farmer, 2;
    his character and offices, 3;
    captain in the alarm list, 7.

  Webster, William G., 70.

  West Hartford, N. W.'s birth-place, 1, 279.

  Wethersfield, within driving distance of Hartford, 11.

  "Whistle, The," 160.

  Williamson, Hugh, 55.

  Winthrop, John: his letters compared with those of Adams, 49.

  Winthrop's Journal, published by N. W., 83, 85, 95, 96.

  Wolcott, Oliver, N. W.'s classmate, 4;
    written to by Trumbull on N. W., 96.

  Yale College, N. W.'s alma mater, 4;
    its impoverished condition during the war for independence, 8;
    distinctions in rank at, 16;
    proportion of ministers among the graduates of, 17;
    condition of its library in 1765, 23.

  Yates, Mr. Justice, 61.

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